July 1, 2018
Children’s Brains Thrive on Music: Why They Do and What it Means for your Family
If you were to randomly select parents from around the country and put them in a room together, you could count on hearing a wide variety of opinions on a wide range of topics. You’d likely hear some pretty significant disagreements. But if you were to ask each of those parents what they want for their children, their answers would likely be pretty similar.
We want our children to be healthy and resilient. We want them strong and successful and kind. We want them to be happy. The wonders of the Technology Age, conveniently enough, have provided us some pretty spiffy tools to help achieve those goals. One of those is the ability to literally see how the various functions and mechanisms of the brain work together to make us who we are, and we thus have new understandings of how to successfully support the kind of development that will help our kids achieve all that we want them to.
And it just so happens that music — particularly music education begun at an early age — supports that kind of development in significant and profound ways. Want your daughter to grow into someone who thinks critically, is imaginative and inventive, generally feels good about her decisions, and finds happiness in community and employment? Get the girl an instrument.
Ages 1–7 are Critical for Brain Development
We know that the first few years of a child’s life are critical. The discrepancies in cognitive ability and general health between adults who spent their first years ignored and deprived of positive stimuli and adults who spent them in supportive, loving homes are well-documented. In fact, a seminal study conducted at Harvard in the ’80s demonstrated that the human brain develops the most synaptic connections (the pathways through the brain) between the birth and ages 1 or 2 and that the neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to grow by forming new connections) is greatest up to the age of 7.
That means that both the physical composition of the brain (the amount of grey matter and those synaptic pathways, for example) and its blueprint for how we think and what we feel (how fast we process information and our general temperament, for instance) are significantly determined in those first few years. In other words, what we bring into our kids’ lives radically affects not only how they think and feel now, but also the strength of the foundation on which their brains will develop for the rest of their lives. It significantly determines the kinds of teenagers and adults our kids will become.
Musical Experiences Help your Child’s Brain Develop
Musical experiences in those early years — particularly high-quality music instruction — are exceptional ways to help your child’s brain grow and developin those years.
How do we know this is true? Well, CAT scans and MRIs let us actually seebrain activity. That’s how we know that when your child listens to you sing, rocks with you, and feels a steady beat, chemicals like dopamine are released in the brain. This is what enables your child to feel safe and loved.
After the infant and baby stages, listening to and playing music — particularly classical music — gives a leg up on cognitive brain function. It exercises the band of nerves connecting the brain’s two hemispheres (the corpus callosum), helping information travel faster and more accurately. It improves memory. It has even been shown to take the fight out of genes associated with neurodegenerative diseases while giving a boost to genes associated with strong motor skills and quicker learning.
In plain talk: receiving quality musical education makes for a happier and longer life. These realities have all come to be understood because of extensive scientific experiments conducted at major centers of scientific study over decades and around the world.
So What Can You Do about It As a Parent?
1.Surround your child’s ears with developmentally appropriate music right from the beginning. Infants should be listening to classical music that is pleasing and soothing to their developing nervous systems while also stimulating their brain to process and understand the musical patterns and changing instrument timbres. Vivaldi, Bach, and Mozart are some of the three best composers to turn to for your little one.
As your child grows and is ready for other styles of music, throw in some jazz, children’s folks songs and nursery rhymes, and some more advanced classical music such as Beethoven, Chopin, and Dvorak. At this point, also start introducing them to the music that you love — just remember that harsh, heavy beats can be stressful to a young child, so as you introduce new sounds, watch your child’s face to make sure they are enjoying the music along with you instead of being bothered by it. For some ideas on what to listen to, check out our recommended playlists on YouTube!
- Sing and dance constantly with your child — seize any moment you can to bounce, sing, dance, make up funny songs, and even speak and rhyme with a steady beat. Your child will delight in the sound of your voice and will start joining in. You will build a stronger bond with your child while building a stronger and more resilient brain!
- Once your child is of preschool age, give them a subscription to My Music Starts Here. This website was created by two parents and music educators who couldn’t find high -quality, musical resources online for their own children, so they decided to make their own. You and your child will giggle, sing, dance, and keep the steady beat together while feeling like you are right in the classroom with Mary and Mike. This easy and affordable resource will give your child everything they need to fully participate in and love music.
- Stock up the toy bin with high quality musical toys so that your preschooler can explore and play with music. Be sure that the toys are of high sound quality so that as your child plays, they are also learning to create a genuine musical sound instead of one with inaccurate pitch or an electronic, overproduced sound. If you need some recommendations, check out Mary and Mike’s hand picked suggestions for you and your child on the My Music Starts Here recommended products page!
- When your child is 4 or 5 years of age, it is time to start thinking about some type of formal music experience, whether it is piano lessons, having them join a choir, or starting a group music class. Listening to developmentally appropriate music is definitely one of the building blocks to a stronger brain, but actively participating in music by singing in a choir or learning to play an instrument takes the benefits of music to a whole other level and is a gift you can give your child now that will benefit them for the rest of their life.