A New Look at Brain Research- The impact of music on reading fluency/prosody: A Video Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito

A new look at Brain Research- The impact of music on reading fluency/prosody: A Video Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito

In this interview Ann C. Kay, co-founder and Educational Coordinator of the Rock ‘n’ Read Project gives us an engaging and informative look at the topic of the impact of music on reading fluency and prosody. This was my very first blog interview done as a video, though I posted a video blog interview last week that was done after this one. That interview was time sensitive- it was about an upcoming Write to Learn speaker. Thanks to Ann for letting me post that first.

How Rock ‘n’ Read Came to Be

Ann begins by telling us she is a long-time music teacher. The saga began with a serendipitous discovery that a software product designed by Carlo Franzblau in Tampa Florida to help users improve singing accuracy, rhythm, and pitch had some amazing effects on reading. It turned out that one of the folks trying out the product, discovered that after a number of weeks of use that her daughter, who had been in special classes in reading, had shown marked improvement in reading fluency. This discovery began Ann’s journey of exploring how and why the product had the tremendous impact that it did.

Carlo Franzblau, the creator of the software program used by Ann, went to the University of South Florida, and engaged Dr. Susan Homan to study the effects of singing on reading achievement. The research by Dr. Homan indicated a year’s gain on average in reading after 13.5 hours of use of Franzblau’s software over 9 weeks. You can read about this research in the handouts that can be downloaded at this LINK.   Ann and her partner Bill Jones were the co-founders of the Rock ‘n’ Read project. Bill decided to literally take the use of the software on the road. He turned a converted Metro Bus into a computer lab with 32 computers. Bill and Ann brought this into neighborhoods during the summer and thus was born the Rock ‘n’ Read Project. After the summer project she began using it in Minneapolis public schools- first with a $100,000 state grant and next with a $500,000 state grant for a pilot.  She is currently nearing the end of that grant.


Ann then talked about the research that backs up the use of singing (and other things like repeated readings) to improve reading fluency/prosody. She is especially passionate about this topic.  She is interested in spreading the word about this research, especially current research in neuroscience which indicates the importance of keeping a beat. She has advocated keeping the beat as an additional foundational skill in state ELA Standards. She notes that children who are unable to keep a beat are much more likely to have problems in reading.

She talked about the 50 plus studies in brain research that explored how the brain processes sound. Researchers have found that children who have trouble keeping a beat often have trouble with reading. One researcher, Dr. Kraus, found that playing music improves auditory processing, which in turn leads to improvement in reading performance. That is why Ann is lobbying that keeping a steady beat, which the researchers are saying is a foundational skill, should be included in the foundational skills in her state. See the handouts in the LINK for details.

Advice for Teaching

Ann indicates that she is a big fan of Rasinski’s work. His work includes not only singing, but also repeated readings, reading poetry, choral reading, nursery rhymes et. al. I have written before in this blog about Dr. Rasinski’s work and ideas. LINK1, LINK2, LINK3. She thinks his activities include the common characteristic of keeping a steady beat.   

It turns out Ann teaches a course about using singing to develop other skills. She has been teaching that course since 2005. Included is not just singing but also singing games. Singing games go beyond singing and include the social/emotional development of students.

Ann singing & reading “Hush Little Baby” to her granddaughter

Dr. Sam’s Takeaways

I have spent most of the last 2 years blogging around the topic of the Reading Wars, the limits and limitations of various approaches and the need to find common ground and common practices. A constant theme has been to look at all the research. That includes the research around the brain.  I view the research that Ann is calling to our attention as supporting the work of Tim Rasinski and as explaining, in part, why practices like repeated reading are successful. There is brain research to support them.  I am a lover of music and do play guitar and sing as a personal hobby. But the kind of activities this research supports goes beyond just singing. The key is having repeated performances that include keeping a steady beat

Here is Ann’s contact information

Ann C. Kay, Minnetonka, MN ann@rnrproject.org

The Rock ‘n’ Read Project

Ann Kay’s website—Center for Lifelong Music Making

Singing-based software program
Tune into Reading

Blog entry copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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12 thoughts on “A New Look at Brain Research- The impact of music on reading fluency/prosody: A Video Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito

  1. luqmanmichel

    Very interesting and fascinating. This relates to one of my post ‘Preschool and child care have little impact on a child’s later school test scores’. You may read more at https://www.dyslexiafriend.com/2020/10/preschool-and-childcare.html

    In my post above I said that we may even be doing a disservice to kids whom we teach the letter names and letter sounds who then are bored when they start grade one where they again teach letter names and letter sounds.

    Dr.Sam, thank you for saying that nursery rhymes are not being taught in most schools. I did not have that information as I live in Malaysia where it has also died down. Nursery rhymes are what we should be teaching in preschools if children are being taught letter names and sounds in grade one. To sing nursery rhymes, I don’t believe you need to be able to read.Teach the nursery rhymes and teach them meanings of the words and I believe they will do better in grade school where they taught to learn to read.

    I have yet to read anything by Tim but you have repeatedly talked about repeated reading. That may be similar to what the shut-down kids who come to me are made to do by me. I ask them to learn the Dolch words by rote memorisation. They are taught to memorise the Dolch words, which I introduce during each lesson, by sounding out the words using letter names. Within 3 months all my students are able to not only read those words but able to spell them as well.

    So, yes, what Ann says resonates with my beliefs.
    Well done Dr.Sam.Excellent!

    1. doctorsam7 Post author

      To find out more about Tim Rasinski, click on the links in the current post (LINK2 LINK2 LINK3). Each leads to posts I’ve done about TIm.

    2. Ann

      Thank you for your feedback, Luqman Michel! I enjoyed reading your blog that seems mainly focused on dyslexia. Neuroscientist Dr. Usha Goswami has stated that (from her research) children with DD have an auditory processing difference in their brains that can be greatly remediated with steady beat activities, such as nursery rhymes, singing games, such as The Grand Old Duke of York, dances, etc. I suppose this grows or strengthens neural connections in their brains that enable them to read more fluently.

    1. doctorsam7 Post author

      I’m very good friends with Tim. He even came out to my site last year. We are working on some things together this year. He is an amazing person.

      1. Helen Proulx

        Fascinating method & research!

        Love this post and how it ties to the practices practices I embraced and found effective in my Early Years teaching practice.

        I’m curious about any research on non-readers-emergent readers on this particular initiative.

        I also wonder if there are studies on the impact of the motor control aspect of “seeing and playing” to strengthening Ss 1-1 correspondance (seeing & saying) motor control in Reading? I have seen music teachers use rhythm symbols (ti, ta, titi, etc.) in teaching rhythm in Early Years Music classrooms & it is very similar to choral reading in literacy classrooms.

        As always, thanks for opening our minds to different literacy research & practice!

      2. doctorsam7 Post author

        I’m passing these question on to Ann- she is the guru of this research in this area.

      3. Ann Kay

        Hello, Helen,

        There are many neurological studies about the effects of motor activation through rhythmic training on brain development that show enhanced auditory processing, and this correlates with higher reading achievement. The “take-away” is that the earlier it is started, the better (see the first study with infants).

        Dondena, C.; Riva, V.; Molteni, M.; Musacchia, G.; Cantiani, C. (2021). Impact of early rhythmic training on language acquisition and electrophysiological functioning underlying auditory processing: feasibility and preliminary findings in typically developing infants. Brain Sci. 11, 1546. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci11111546

        Kraus, N., Slater, J., Thompson, E.C., Hornickel J., Strait, D.L., Nicol, T., White-Schwoch, T. (2014). Auditory learning through active engagement with sound: biological impact of community music lessons in at-risk children. Frontiers in Neuroscience 8. https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnins.2014.00351

        Chobert, J., François, C., Velay, J., Besson, M. (2012). Twelve months of active musical training in 8- to 10-year-old children enhances the preattentive processing of syllabic duration and voice onset time, Cerebral Cortex, Volume 24, Issue 4, April 2014, Pages 956–967, https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhs377

        My best,

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