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Cortex. 2013 May;49(5):1363-76. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2012.05.005. Epub 2012 May 23.

Perception of patterns of musical beat distribution in phonological developmental dyslexia: significant longitudinal relations with word reading and reading comprehension.

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Centre for Neuroscience in Education, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.



In a recent study, we reported that the accurate perception of beat structure in music ('perception of musical meter') accounted for over 40% of the variance in single word reading in children with and without dyslexia (Huss et al., 2011). Performance in the musical task was most strongly associated with the auditory processing of rise time, even though beat structure was varied by manipulating the duration of the musical notes.


Here we administered the same musical task a year later to 88 children with and without dyslexia, and used new auditory processing measures to provide a more comprehensive picture of the auditory correlates of the beat structure task. We also measured reading comprehension and nonword reading in addition to single word reading.


One year later, the children with dyslexia performed more poorly in the musical task than younger children reading at the same level, indicating a severe perceptual deficit for musical beat patterns. They now also had significantly poorer perception of sound rise time than younger children. Longitudinal analyses showed that the musical beat structure task was a significant longitudinal predictor of development in reading, accounting for over half of the variance in reading comprehension along with a linguistic measure of phonological awareness.


The non-linguistic musical beat structure task is an important independent longitudinal and concurrent predictor of variance in reading attainment by children. The different longitudinal versus concurrent associations between musical beat perception and auditory processing suggest that individual differences in the perception of rhythmic timing are an important shared neural basis for individual differences in children in linguistic and musical processing.

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