What Do Music and Speech Have in Common?


Music and speech have 3 main things in common: timing, pitch and timbre. Each of these 3 elements are essential to both speech and music and without an understanding of how to process them, you will see developmental learning deficits.

Music and speech have 3 main things in common: timing, pitch and timbre. Each of these 3 elements are essential to both speech and music and without an understanding of how to process them, you will see developmental learning deficits.

The 3 common elements as mentioned before are:

  • Pitch
  • Timing
  • Timbre

1. Pitch

Pitch relates to the frequency of sound. Is it high or is it low? Being able to effectively process pitch is essential for language because it gives us clues as to what type of language we are hearing and cues us for a particular type of response.

For example, a question will always get higher at the end. The pitch rises. Coming Soon?

A child soon learns, even though they might not understand the intricacies of how, that when they hear that rise in pitch at the end of a sentence, someone is asking them a question. That then signals that a response is required from them.

It is a part of language communication that everyone learns.

What if the pitch drops at the end? This sounds like a statement. Coming Soon!

This is either an instruction or instructive and doesn’t elicit the same response as a question does.

But what if a child is unable to process the difference between a rise and a lowering in pitch? They won’t know if you are asking a question and may just look at you. If you are making a statement, they might not realize it isn’t a question.

Processing pitch correctly is incredibly important for the acquisition of language which also impacts on how children interact socially.

2. Timing

As mentioned in the video, timing is essential in knowing which letters are being spoken. Different letters are longer than others (vowels for example) and the timing of some are quicker than others.

When we say quicker, the difference is so miniscule and happens so quickly that the processing needs to be extremely precise.

There is a 40-millisecond difference between a “b” and a “d”.

If a child is not processing timing correctly, they won’t pick up the difference between the two letters and could swap them or substitute them for something else.

Timing also accounts for where language falls. In speech, there is an emphasis on one syllable in a word. Put the emphasis on another syllable and it sounds different.

For example: Lettuce. If you say LETtuce with the emphasis being on the first syllable, it sounds totally different to letTUCE with the emphasis being on the second syllable.

If not processing the timing of where sounds fall, a child might not have any idea what you are talking about, even though they know what a lettuce is.

3. Timbre

Timbre is the color of the sound. Is it bright or is it darker and more mellow?

The letter “b” is very forward in the mouth and a bright sound
The letter “g” is much more down in our throats and a darker, more mellow sound.

If a child is not processing timbre well, they may not know the difference because if you take that element out of it, the two consonants sound remarkably similar.

In music, timbre relates to the color of sound the instruments produce. The sound of a violin is much brighter and lighter than a tuba which is darker and rounded.

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