Music as a scaffold for listening to speech: Better neural phase-locking to song than speech
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© 2020 The Authors Neural activity synchronizes with the rhythmic input of many environmental signals, but the capacity of neural activity to entrain to the slow rhythms of speech is particularly important for successful communication. Compared to speech, song has greater rhythmic regularity, a more stable fundamental frequency, discrete pitch movements, and a metrical structure, this may provide a temporal framework that helps listeners neurally track information better than the rhythmically irregular rhythms of speech. The current study used EEG to examine whether entrainment to the syllable rate of linguistic utterances, as indexed by cerebro-acoustic phase coherence, was greater when listeners heard sung than spoken sentences. We assessed listeners phase-locking in both easy (no time compression) and hard (50% time-compression) utterance conditions. Adults phase-locked equally well to speech and song in the easy listening condition. However, in the time-compressed condition, phase-locking was greater for sung than spoken utterances in the theta band (3.67–5 Hz). Thus, the musical temporal and spectral characteristics of song related to better phase-locking to the slow phrasal and syllable information (4–7 Hz) in the speech stream. These results highlight the possibility of using song as a tool for improving speech processing in individuals with language processing deficits, such as dyslexia.