Developing auditory and motor musical timing tests for young children

Katie Overy

University of Edinburgh, UK

Previous research has demonstrated the potential value of musical timing tests in the identification of children at risk of literacy difficulties. For example, in a study comparing the musical skills of dyslexic and non-dyslexic children (aged 7-11), it was found that rapid temporal processing skills and rhythm skills were particularly impaired in dyslexic children, while pitch and melody skills were not affected (Overy 2003). Conducted with younger children, such musical tests could present an opportunity to identify children at risk of literacy difficulties prior to literacy learning, thus potentially avoiding years of failure and frustration for such children.

However, in order to develop a practical, short version of such musical timing tests it is necessary to limit them to a subset of key auditory and motor timing skills. This, in turn, requires the careful identification and selection of such subtests. For example, in the domain of rhythm: what is the comparative importance of rhythm discrimination, rhythm imitation or rhythm synchronization? What is the comparative difficulty of increased rhythmic complexity, increased rhythm length, or increased tempo? To what extent should auditory memory load be avoided in tests of rhythmic skill? How effectively can melody tests be used to control for auditory memory load? Such questions, and others, will be considered.