If you remember the ‘90s (you can, right?) you may have heard about the “Mozart effect,” the claim that listening to classical music increases intelligence, particularly in babies and young children. While there is no direct correlation between IQ and how many times a child hears Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 before age 2, it’s undeniable that music – particularly, regular music lessons – have a powerful influence on the developing brain. Within the world of neuropsychology, this topic has only recently exploded in popularity, with researchers exploring the possibilities of music as a tool for therapy, academic intervention, and more.
The brain is truly like a muscle – it can be flexed and strengthened when you make a habit of certain activities (also called neuroplasticity). So how does music help to build a rapidly growing brain? Here are four scientifically proven ways that engaging with music can set your child up for a lifetime of success.
#1. Language and Literacy Development
There’s a reason why so many children pick up the alphabet by singing their “ABCs”. Both music and language are full of patterns and repetition, which are critical for learning and memorization. Music and language are processed in similar parts of the brain–for example, they both activate the auditory (hearing) system and our temporal lobes, which process sensory input and store sensory memories. In 2019, music itself was officially deemed the world’s universal language. Interpreting the meaning of song is a mental, emotional, and sensory experience that every culture does with remarkable similarity.
In order to learn a language, a child must be able to distinguish between different sounds in language, such as vowels, consonants, and tones. This skill is a fundamental aspect of comprehending both language and music. In an MIT study, children who had taken piano lessons showed an advantage over children in an “extra reading” intervention group in discriminating between words that differ by one consonant. That means a beginning-level music book might do more for your child’s literacy skills than another pile of library books.
#2. Attentiveness and Concentration
It’s no secret that constant screen time, especially “doomscrolling” for us grown-ups, can wreak havoc on the brain’s ability to perform an extended task without getting distracted – and it’s not great for our mental health, either. Many parents already maintain boundaries around screen time for their kids, so here are a few more reasons to switch the iPad out for a piano or guitar.
Working memory helps you keep track of information needed for the moment. Think of it as a whiteboard for your brain to take notes on that has to be erased periodically as you go through your day. There are countless benefits to having improved working memory; we all know how frustrating it can be to forget what you were talking about or doing ten seconds ago.
Through a study conducted in Chile, neuroscientists have found that children with musical training performed better than their non-trained peers on attention and working memory-related tasks. For children, practicing an instrument, much like learning to read, requires the brain to be focused and present, and for working memory to be strong. The lead researcher of this study was so encouraged that he plans to use his findings to “evaluate a musical training intervention on ADHD children.”
#3. Social and Emotional Development
Social-emotional learning has been a hot topic in the education world in recent years, and with the collective stress of the pandemic on our society, it is more important than ever to value the social and emotional well-being of our children. If you are worried about the effects of social isolation and distancing on your child’s development over the past two years, you are not alone.
Fortunately, music and play, when combined in a group setting, is one antidote to these negative effects. That’s why our Early Childhood Music Classes are right on time to ease your little ones into a fun experience that will help them practice prosocial behaviors, such as cooperation and empathy – not to mention, basic musical concepts such as melody and beat! The amazing Ms. Heather facilitates all three of our current classes in this program: Rocking Pandas (6-18 months), Hopping Hippos (18 months-3 years) and Roaring Lions (3-5 years). You can learn more and sign up here!
#4. Executive Functioning
Executive functioning is just as important as it sounds. It’s a set of critical mental skills that involve organization, self-regulation, time and task management, and more. These skills can be challenging for all children to master, but especially for neurodivergent or diverse learners.
Playing a musical instrument is a fantastic way to bridge the gaps for any child still working on these skills; it’s perhaps the ultimate multitasking activity, making the brain and body cooperate to create something new, while simultaneously engaging the visual, auditory, and tactile senses.
Attending a structured weekly lesson and making time for practice at home helps children with planning and organization. And according to a study from the University of Vermont, playing an instrument was “associated with more rapid cortical thickness maturation with the areas of motor planning and coordination, visuo-spatial ability, and emotion and impulse regulation, the latter being correlated with increased executive functions.” That’s a fancy way of saying your child’s brain matures more quickly from routinely playing an instrument – and that their executive functioning skills benefit directly!
We all know that children undergo a vast amount of changes and grow at an exponential rate in their primary years of life. Nearly all extracurricular activities for children help to promote healthy development during this critical time when the mind is being shaped – and with lasting impacts. But it may be that music has the widest range of positive effects on the brain at a young age; these four ways are just a few of many others. New findings and research will continue to reveal the transformative powers of music on the mind. One thing is for certain: it’s never too early to expose your child to music in any form – whether they are listening in the car, practicing an instrument daily, or singing and clapping along during a weekly group class. Why not start them on this journey today?
Do you have a question that we didn’t get to answer? Leave us a comment below!