Overcoming Dyslexia: Music, Rhythm, and Prosody

 Phonics is the science of reading, prosody is the music of language, the sounds that bring joy and mystery. and meaning in the way words are said.

Matthew Glavach. Ph.D.

While songs and rhymes are known to help children develop phonological awareness (sound elements in words), new research on speech rhythm is promising for children with dyslexia. And it is something every parent and teacher can do.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects an individual’s ability to read, write, and spell. It is important to know that there are different degrees of dyslexia and that not all reading difficulties are dyslexia.

Children with dyslexia often have difficulties which include the following:

·   Producing speech sounds in the correct order

There are two main types of dyslexia.

Phonological Dyslexia

This is the most common type of dyslexia. It affects an individual's ability to match sounds to symbols and break down the sounds of language. People with phonological dyslexia struggle to decode or sound out words.


Rapid Naming Dyslexia:

This type of dyslexia affects an individual’s ability to rapidly                                                                                                                                                                                                    name colors, numbers, and letters when presented with them. People with rapid naming dyslexia may also have difficulty with reading comprehension 1. (Some children may have both types of dyslexia.)  Identifying problems early and putting interventions into practice can help all children but especially those with dyslexia.


Music with Lyrics and Phonological Awareness

(sound elements of words).


Music with lyrics helps develop phonics and reading skills. The rhythm in songs is slower than speech and there is more separation of sounds.  These help children develop the sounds for letters and improve auditory discrimination for sounds. If children can’t hear the correct sounds, they can’t produce them and struggle to read. The melody of songs can help with developing fluent reading skills.2

Music with Lyrics can Open Pathways for Learning

Listening to, playing, reading, and creating music involves almost every part of the brain. If one pathway is weak, music can help open others. With practice, songs build stronger connections between the right and left sides of the brain and can bring many to reading. Singing increases brain chemicals such as dopamine and changes the levels of some hormones related to dopamine and reduces cortisol which is a stress hormone.3 Learning to read requires attention, engagement, and repetition, all a part of singing.

Music with Lyrics can Improve Reading

How reading the words in songs can improve reading.  When singing a song many times, we assume that the child knows the words. Often children can read the words to a song based on the order of the words. The words tend to go into sequential memory.  For the words to be in long term memory and available for reading, they must be identified quickly independent of the song. This can be done as simply as pointing to different song words quickly before the child has the time to think of the words in the order of the song or with words cards of the individual words.

Keeping a Steady Beat

Neuroscientific and audiology processing researchers have found that being able to keep a steady beat, a rhythmically repeating sound pattern, is an indicator that learning to read is ready to happen in the brain.4  In music, the beat remains consistent while rhythm changes. This study was based on observation of children who struggle to read due to dyslexia or some other form of learning delay. Those same children struggle to keep a steady beat.

Rhythm of Words out of Sync

According to Professor Goswami “children who are dyslexic struggle with speech rhythm.5” Her research shows that the rhythm of words is out sync with the internal rhythm of the brain and providing rhythmic activities can lead many to reading.  Children who recognize differences in rhythm patterns and tap to a beat learn to read and spell more easily. All kinds of rhythmic experiences can be helpful.  Playground activities, clapping, games, nursery rhymes, poetry, dancing, and music with lyrics.  This kind of intervention can be started even before children start school.6 There are explicit rhythm-based training programs which improve timing in the brain. Some have been used to improve language, reading, and communication skills. Rhythm based therapy has a growing status in recovery from concussion and other brain injuries addressing both cognitive and emotional health. Therapy involving rhythm also has shown promise in addressing communication and social behavior in people on the autism spectrum scale. Children who cannot speak can form words and sentences when accompanied by a clear rhythm.7

Prosody, the Music of Language

The melody and rhythm of one’s voice plays an important part in learning to read. There is a rhythm in language beyond the rhyming of poetry. it is a part of pronunciation rhythm. Prosody is what a reader does with their voice to convey meaning and emotion. With appropriate pitch, emphasis, timing, and intonation they will have an accurate picture of what’s being conveyed on the page, comprehension.  For example, a reader’s rhythm could speed up to indicate that a character in the text is scared, or their rhythm could slow down to show when a character is tired. Readers can also raise or lower their intonation to indicate meaning, as they might when raising the pitch of their voice at the end of a question. Prosody is associated with the music area of the brain which can be an advantage for all children, especially children with dyslexia.8

My research has found that prosodic reading combined with repeated reading can lead to significant gains for struggling readers. The program can be found in my book: Struggling with Phonics and Reading, there is Another way.  My music and reading program, Phonics Songs plus with twenty-five songs by Donny and Marie Osmond is also available at my website: StrugglingReaders.com.





















1. Dehaene, Stanislas. (2009) Reading in the Brain. P.31. Penguin Group:  USA

2. Collins, Anita. (2022) The Music Advantage. P.66. Australia: Allen and Unwin

3. Levitin, Daniel J. (2006) This Is Your Brain on Music. 161, Dutton, New York, NY

4. Collins, Anita. (2022) The Music Advantage. P.70. Australia: Allen and Unwin

5. Collins, Anita. (2022) The Music Advantage. P.92-94. Australia: Allen and Unwin

6. Collins, Anita. (2022) The Music Advantage. P.92-94. Australia: Allen and Unwin

7. Levitin, Daniel J. (2006) This Is Your Brain on Music. 161, Dutton, New York, NY

8. Rogers, Susan. (2022) This is What it Sounds Like. P.156.New York, NY: Norton and Company