A recent study found that a connection between language and beat-keeping abilities.

The researchers were able to make the first biological link between a high-school student's rhythmic abilities and "encoding of speech sounds," a Northwestern University press release reported. This could have a significant effect on reading.  

Past studies have been able to find a connection between neural response consistency and reading skills. "By directly linking auditory responses with beat-keeping ability, we have closed the triangle," Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, said.

"The study demonstrates that accurate beat-keeping involves synchronization between the parts of the brain responsible for hearing as well as movement. Where previous research investigations focused on the motor half of the equation, Kraus and co-author Adam Tierney focused on the auditory component," the press release reported.

Hearing words and connecting them to their written versions is extremely important in the process of learning to read, so the team set out to see if hearing a beat and hearing a spoken word both came from the same place in the auditory system.

The researchers tested 124 Chicago high school students in hopes of making the connection. In the first test the students were asked to tap their fingers on a "tapping pad" that recorded the movements while listening to a metronome. A computer program analyzed how accurately the students were able to tap along with the ticking device.

In a second "brainwave" test the students were hooked up to electrodes that recorded their brain activity as they listened to a "repeated syllable."

The team found the students who tapped along with the metronome's beat most accurately also had a more consistent brain response to the repeated tone.

"This is supported biologically," Kraus said. "The brainwaves we measured originate from a biological hub of auditory processing with reciprocal connections with the motor-movement centers. An activity that requires coordination of hearing and movement is likely to rely on solid and accurate communication across brain regions."

"Musicians have highly consistent auditory-neural responses. It may be that musical training -- with its emphasis on rhythmic skills -- can exercise the auditory-system, leading to less neural jitter and stronger sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential to learning to read," she said.