October 8, 2017
Why Your Child’s Brain Needs Music
As parents, we all want our children to grow up healthy and strong. To help them do that, we know it is important for them to consistently get a good night’s sleep and to eat nutritious food throughout the day. But as a musician and music educator, I know that my children’s brains need more than just good sleep and good food in order to thrive. Children’s brains need good music too.
Child Brain Development
With today’s incredible technology, we can study how the human brain develops, how it works, and what happens to the brain when we participate in different activities. For educators, this provides enormous insight into how children’s brains develop, allowing us to make the most informed decisions regarding curricula, learning environments, and best teaching practices.In 1983, Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor of neurophysiology, published a book entitled, Frames of Mind, in which he discusses brain development as well as his theory of multiple intelligences (more on that in a minute). Gardner’s study shows us that a child’s brain develops the highest density of synapses connections (the pathways through the brain) between birth and ages 1 or 2. The rate of development slows down after age 2 and continues to slow down until age 16, then remains relatively constant until the early 70’s. It’s no wonder why parents, caregivers, and teachers want to surround young children with quality stimulation when their brains are developing most rapidly. We all want our children’s minds to get the best resources for growth and development.
When A Child’s Brain Is Stimulated By Music…
With the use of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET), doctors can watch what happens in a person’s brain during specific activities.We now know that when your child listens to music, listens to you sing, rocks with you, and feels a steady beat, chemicals are released in their brain that help them to feel safe, content, and bonded with you.
Caregivers have probably known this stuff since the beginning of time! As parents, our natural instinct is to pick up our precious screaming infant and gently rock and sing to them. When our toddler faceplants on the sidewalk, we scoop them up, cradle them in our arms, and bounce and coo to them that they are going to be okay. We know that music works, and so we do it, even without knowing about all of the fancy chemicals in our kids’ brains (not to mention our own! More on that later!).
But now we have scientific proof of why it works. We’ve witnessed our brains light up in multiple areas as we listen and process music. So for a young child, listening to music is like weight-lifting for their minds. It strengthens those synapses connections that I spoke of earlier, which strengthens their ability to learn and process new information.
When Your Child’s Brain Makes Music…
As your child grows and can actively vocalize, sing, bang on a drum, or strum a ukulele – “fireworks” explode in their brain, even more so than when they were merely listening to music. Now they are active music-makers, and every area of their brain illuminates with activity.
Research shows us that music is the only art form that allows for such incredible brain activity.
As your child makes music, hence engaging every section of their brain, they’re making each section stronger. With every melody sung, with every rhythm played, with every musical sound created, your child’s brain builds more and more neural pathways for learning, comprehending, and feeling the world around them.
If You Join Your Child In Making Music…
If you join them in their music making, the benefits for both you and your child are intensified – it’s soothing, it releases serotonin, it lowers your stress hormone, and it releases communal endorphins that bond you and your child together.With all of these fireworks going off in your child’s brain while creating music, you have set the stage for a lifetime of being a happy, creative, problem-solving, thinker. It is no exaggeration at all to say that when you give your young child the gift of quality musical experiences, you are changing their life for the better.
Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Harvard Prof. of Neurophysiology)
In his book, Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner writes about his theory of multiple intelligences. In a nutshell, every person is born with many different intelligences, some stronger than others, and operating for the most part separate from one another. Gardner says “…there is persuasive evidence for the existence of several relatively autonomous human intellectual competences.
The exact nature and breadth of each intellectual “frame” have not been satisfactorily established. But the conviction that there exist at least some intelligences, that these are relatively independent of one another, and that they can be fashioned and combined in a multiplicity of adaptive ways by individuals and cultures, seems to me to be increasingly difficult to deny”. These intelligences are: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Logical-Mathematical, Naturalistic, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Linguistic, and Musical.
All children deserve the opportunity to have all eight of these intelligences nurtured, so their natural strengths and abilities fully develop throughout their lives. Imagine that each intelligence is a seed, and as parents/caregivers/teachers, it’s our job to give each seed a safe and healthy environment in which to grow with plenty of fertile soil, water, and sunlight.
It’s is natural that even with the same amount of nurturing, some seeds may thrive and others may not. It is the same with the eight intelligences. As a child grows and develops, their intellectual strengths will become more and more apparent.
Making Music Activates All Of The Intelligences
As a parent, it may seem overwhelming to think about giving your child the very best opportunities in every single one of these areas throughout their entire early childhood. I know for myself and my two little guys at home, there are days when I consider it a win that they are both dressed, they were fed something, and the house didn’t fall down! Thinking about providing the perfect environment for which they can develop their logical-mathematical intelligence might be too much to ask that day!However, current research is showing us that making music, more than any other art form requires multiple areas of the brain to work simultaneously and interrelatedly. Making music triggers the brain’s “corpus callosum (the bridge between the two hemispheres of our brain), allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes.” All of this brain activity makes a child’s brain stronger and more ready to learn, process, and understand new information.
By surrounding your child with quality, age-appropriate music and giving them the opportunity to play an instrument, you’re nurturing more than just their musical intelligence. You are giving their brain the foundation it needs for the other seven intelligences to grow and develop.
How Is Each Type Of Intelligence Affected By Music?
Intrapersonal-Interpersonal: Being a musician helps build the emotional center of the brain so that one can be more empathetic and understanding of other’s emotions. This also allows one to be more in control of their own emotions, allowing for deeper relationships with other people.
Logical-Mathematical: Being a musician requires a deep understanding of large mathematical concepts. Rhythm is the subdivision of a larger beat and reading music is de-coding abstract symbols on a page and making them into something we can hear and understand.
Naturalistic: Being a musician makes a person more sensitive to the world and aware of details around them.
Bodily-Kinesthetic: Actively making music is a physical act, requiring controlled fine and gross motor skills.
Linguistic: Singing lyrics and speaking in rhythm require an understanding of language and how words can flow together to make overarching phrases.
When you give your child the gift of music – whether you are singing with them, or playing developmentally appropriate music for them, or you put an instrument in their hands and help them learn to play it – you are giving your child exactly what they need to develop a strong, healthy brain. You are giving them what they need to have a future filled with joy, creativity, thoughtfulness, logical reasoning, strong speech and language skills, listening skills, and therefore a vibrant, fulfilling life. As part of your To Do list this week, give your child this amazing gift. They deserve it.