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Fostering Independent Readers Through Music

By: Haleigh Beaird, MMT, MT-BC

In my time working as a music therapist with children with disabilities, especially when working in Public Education, I commonly see ELA, Communication, and Functional goals centered around WH questions and reading comprehension. While I love a good singable story (a book that a melody has been paired with the words), I often wonder how that teaches the skills for children to independently learn and generalize what is being requested in their goals (i.e. multiple word responses, writing prompts, turn-taking, CVC words, rhyming, knowing how to find answers to WH questions in non-singable stories, etc.) 

According to Kindermusik, "A number of research studies have found that children who participate in music instruction tend to score higher on tests of reading comprehension than children who do not participate in musical instruction."

The idea is as a child gets older, they will be reading longer and harder reading prompts. So how do we set them up for success down the road when they are expected to read multiple pages of a chapter book or short story and then have to write a paragraph to answer a writing prompt?

I will admit that for years I simply used singable stories to address reading comprehension goals, but began to notice a pattern that some of the actual skills needed for higher-level reading and writing weren’t being taught during those books, let alone would not be functional in other settings outside of music.

Sure! The music put to the story was motivating for the child to attend longer, take in the information better, and allowed for opportunities for them to fill in the blanks with musical cues. However, I was wondering HOW it was teaching them skills they could take with them to independently read on their own without music being applied.

Because the idea of what we do as music therapists is to use music on non-musical goals that allow clients to apply the things they learn with us to every other area of their life. 

I began brainstorming of what we could do as music therapists to not only get all of that wonderful attention and receptiveness that comes with a singable story, but while we had the child’s attention, how we could put something in their hand to take with them that gave them the independence to learn reading comprehension skills on their own.

This is when I came up with the Question Song, which teaches children what to do when needing to find an answer in their book. However, I found that there were other prerequisites that children needed before they may be able to independently attend with a book outside of music. So this is when I came up with the Page Turn Song, to teach children how to move through a book and begin to adapt to transitions while reading. Lastly, I noticed a lot of reading comprehension goals in school districts were often tied to Communication and Speech. I tried to think of simpler ways to begin facilitating one word responses utilizing the book we were reading to help children who were not quite ready yet to answer full comprehension questions or answer in complete sentences. I wanted to give them a song that allowed them to interact with the book and notice what was going on, but required less communication (also these songs can be adapted to use AAC devices, speech-to-text on a computer, or a variety of other accommodations children may need). This is when I came up with the Rhyming Song

These are the three songs I am sharing this week in our HHMT Freebie Friday video. While I am a huge advocate for singable stories, I also think we can address more functional skills during books in music therapy by applying some of these other songs. 

I will say that there are other songs I have used over the years to also help with breaking down words by vowels and consonants, addressing dyslexia support with reading, word identification, and learning the steps to write a paragraph. However, these three songs in today’s Freebie Friday video seem to still be some of my most used in sessions and I have seen the greatest success with children applying them outside of music therapy.

As children continue to advance with reading skills, they will eventually progress to harder reading, writing, and communication skills. As therapists or parents, meeting these prerequisites sets children up for a better chance of independence and applying steps taught through music in multiple settings, so when they get to the more difficult expectations with reading and writing, they have had support front-loaded to better prepare them.

Pairing music and reading has so many wonderful benefits (check out our latest FB post on it here) and is something I address every day in my sessions. I hope that some of these songs can be used in your sessions, your home, or your classroom with your children to help better prepare them for independently reading, communicating, and writing in the future!

Thank you all for being a part of the HHMT family and take care!

Haleigh Beaird

Master in Music Therapy, Board Certified Music Therapist



Cohrdes, C., Grolig, L., & Schroeder, S. (2016). Relating Language and Music Skills in Young Children: A First Approach to Systemize and Compare Distinct Competencies on Different Levels. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 1616.

Music in early childhood has a direct link to reading readiness. (n.d.). MSU Extension.

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