Why is Music Good for Children’s Development?

1. Music Surrounded Them Even Before Birth

Music is part of our lives long before we are born. A fetus develops their own sense of steady beat and internal rhythm with the beginning of their pulse at around 35 – 45 days in the womb. From then on, it is surrounded by the mother’s heartbeat and the rhythmic sounds of her breathing.

From 16 weeks onwards the fetus begins to process sounds from the outside world; the lyrical melodies of speech, the rhythm and timbre of music, and the steady beat of sounds in the environment.

The elements of music are not new to a newborn so it makes sense that music can be beneficial once they are outside the womb and have a more developed auditory system and less auditory barriers such as fluid and internal sounds.

2. Music Naturally Leads to Language Acquisition

The main elements of music are:

  • rhythm
  • melody
  • harmony
  • timbre
  • dynamics
  • texture and
  • form

While they all come together seamlessly as we listen, some elements have been individually tied to future skills. A study in 2019 found that “Rhythm perception and production were the best predictors of phonological awareness, while melody perception was the best predictor of grammar acquisition.”

3. Music Calms Their Brain

The brain is adept at recognizing and processing patterns, even complex patterns. According to research, newborns can tell the difference between their mother’s voice and a voice that is not their mothers. There is even evidence that a fetus prefers the mother’s voice before they are born.

Even though our brains are built to look for patterns, unfortunately, we live in a world where there is a lot of sound without patterns. The hum of computers, air conditioners, traffic noise, microwaves, fans, the list goes on and on.

Our auditory system is processing sound all the time, not just speech and music, but ALL sound. We process this sound through our ears (air conduction) but also our whole skeletal system (bone conduction).

With so much sound without patterns, the brain is constantly trying to make sense of, and find the patterns in these sounds. This can be exhausting!

Music gives the brain what it needs. It gives it something to hang onto. It provides the sense the brain is looking for which allows the central nervous system to calm.

Finding patterns allows the brain space and time to process the normal things it needs to. If we went to bed with static playing (where there is no pattern, just sound) we send our brain into overdrive trying to find the patterns which is overwhelming and exhausting.

Used correctly, music can be a great tool for destressing our kids, as well as a fun backdrop for creativity, dancing and fun!

4. Music Helps Executive Function Skills

The Prefrontal Cortex is responsible for the processes and functions of the executive system. They are:

  • Working memory
  • Self-regulation of emotions
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Organization and planning
  • Decision making
  • Goal orientated behaviors
  • Inhibitory Control

As a result, it helps children with the following skills in daily life:

  • Remembering things
  • Keeping their emotions in check. Something small may happen and they might meltdown. The response will not match the situation
  • Social situations
  • Stopping what they want to do and doing another task that you may want them to do
  • Understanding things. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to switch between two different concepts or to think about multiple concepts simultaneously.
  • Organizing themselves or their thoughts
  • Solving problems
  • Planning
  • Making decisions
  • Having a desire to reach goals or to move forward – they will have general apathy

Research has shown us that listening to music activates prefrontal cortical areas that are involved in supporting these executive functions.

Actively participating in music making activities increases that effect and supports the development of these important skills.

5. Music Allows Self Expression

Music, as well as art, are areas where a child can express themselves without fear of getting things wrong. Growing up they are told many times they are wrong. “Don’t touch that, do this differently, don’t say that” etc.

Music provides an avenue where they can be free, express themselves without restraint or fear of correction. It provides a platform for expressing feelings, moods, and emotions.

Music teaches our children more about themselves, allows them to explore their identity, likes and dislikes and how they fit in relation to others.

Two children may sing or play the same song differently, adding their own personality and expression.

It can capture and immortalize memories, and provide an outlet for frustrations, joy, and sorrow.

6. Music Develops Social Skills

There are many opportunities to build social skills in relation to music. They might be:

  • A group music class
  • Singing in a choir
  • Playing in an orchestra or band
  • Dancing together
  • Singing or playing duets

These experiences develop essential skills in dealing with people such as:

  • Self-confidence
  • Self-regulation
  • Leadership skills
  • socio-emotional intelligence

Through group experiences children learn to work as a team and develop empathy for other people.

An article in the Psychology of Music found that emotional processes involved in children’s musical interactions did, in fact, promote positive social-emotional capacities such as empathy for others.

7. Music Lights Up Every Area of the Brain

Research has shown us that various parts of the brain process different elements of music such as timbre, key, and rhythm, and as such, large-scale brain networks are engaged when listening to and engaging in music.

This activity strengthens more than just the auditory pathways in the brain but also makes strong centers used for math, science, and language.

8. Music Helps Memory

Music develops an array of skills, many of them being used to enhance memory. Children who learn music not only recognize patterns but retain and recall those patterns more easily than children who have not learned music.

These experiences enhance the areas of the brain related to attention control and auditory encoding. Studies have shown that musical learning directly enhances working memory which is a part of executive functions.

The brain can only cope with a certain number of pieces of information at one time. A child’s age will determine what that number is; the younger the child the less information.

Once that limit is reached, the brain can’t perform its usual functions effectively and becomes overwhelmed.

For example, these 12 circles represent 12 pieces of information.

Once the limit is reached the brain can’t take any more in and may even stop being able to perform other tasks (like executive functions) as effectively.

But the brain has a way of increasing working memory by grouping information into patterns. For example:

Those 12 pieces of information have now become 3 groups which the brain sees as 3 pieces of information, leaving it free to absorb another 9 pieces of information.

The ability to identify and group similar pieces of information abounds in music. Patterns of melody, rhythms, form verses, choruses, and structure provide ample practice for children to get really good at increasing working memory.

This carries over into other subjects and life experiences outside of music and into life in general.

9. Music helps Auditory Skills

We all need variety in our listening environment. Alfred Tomatis, the founder of research most sound therapy is based on, discovered 6 key things, one of which being that sound is a nutrient – it can either charge or discharge our central nervous system.

Brains naturally attend to new things. When our children experience something new, it sends out the beginnings of new connections (neural wiring). With repetition over time, those connections become strong.

If they don’t have enough repetition, or if they no longer use that skill after a period, the brain is efficient and prunes the connections that are no longer being used to make room for new ones.

Imagine if our children only ate one thing, day in and day out for months or years. They would become extremely ill because their body needs a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to facilitate the many processes that allow them to function in a normal way.

Even eliminating one thing can cause issues. When children don’t get enough vitamin C, they end up with the following possible symptoms:

  • Feeling very tired and weak all the time
  • feeling irritable and sad all the time
  • have severe joint or leg pain
  • have swollen, bleeding gums (sometimes teeth can fall out)
  • develop red or blue spots on the skin, usually on your shins
  • have skin that bruises easily

Scurvy is the deficiency of one element of all the nutrients a child needs and yet it can have devastating effects on the body as a whole.

The same happens with the auditory system. When our children are deprived of the opportunity of processing certain sounds, it can affect an array of skills, some of which you would not even associate with not being able to process sounds correctly.

There are 12 essential auditory skills in total and music provides an opportunity to develop many of them.

There is a wide variety in music, in the textures, form, melodies, rhythm and timbre. A Baroque fugue is completely different to an 80s pop song which differs again from jazz.

This variety helps our children practice their auditory skills as they listen to, participate in and practice music.

10. Music Teaches Math Concepts

Music and math have always been closely related. Music uses many of the same concepts and so it is common for children who learn music to also be good at math.

Similar concepts shared by the two are:

  • counting
  • addition
  • subtraction
  • division
  • fractions
  • one to one correspondence
  • the concepts of more than and less than
  • form
  • patterns (repeat, mirror, reverse)
  • Weights and vibrations (Pythagoras)

Research has discovered a strong connection between reading music and math achievement. The processes that the brain uses to understand math are similar, and in some cases, the same it uses to understand musical concepts.

11. Music Builds Self Confidence

To perform or play in front of others takes confidence. Singing as part of a choir, playing an instrument as part of an orchestra all takes self-confidence.

If children are not confident at the beginning, it can be a positive way to build that self-esteem.

One study even found that bass-heavy music makes you more confident.

There is no doubt that music evokes emotion and if tied to a position event, can give temporary confidence at a time when needed.

Over time though, self-confidence is built through positive group experiences and mastery of skill in the case of learning to play an instrument.

12. Music Helps Improve Concentration

While there has been much debate on the subject, a 2007 study found that listening to music (in particular classical music) assisted the brain in absorbing new information. There is an argument for playing music while study happens and that it improves concentration, but everyone is different.

For some, the type of music will be important. For others it may be distracting.

Learning to play a musical instrument certainly develops concentration. It doesn’t happen without it, needing both concentration and attention to detail to master the skill.

For young children, even ensemble playing with glockenspiels or recorders takes great concentration as does singing in a choir, playing in an orchestra or a band.

Each child needs to attend not only to what they are doing, but to the conductor, to the others in the group, knowing when to play and when to stop.

If singing in a choir they need to be able to hold their own part, even though there is competing noise around them. This takes great concentration.

13. Music Helps Motor Coordination

Whether it is dancing to the beat of your own drum or learning to play an instrument, music helps both fine and large motor coordination.

When young children hear music, they move, they dance and help the body to become more coordinated.

Learning an instrument entails fine motor coordination, whether it be moving keys in various combinations or holding drumsticks. Some instruments take more skill such as learning the piano which has hands and feet moving differently in a simultaneous way.

This movement also helps with the vestibular system and balance, fine-tuned by coordinating movements and matching their own internal steady beat to the external steady beat of the music.

14. Music Teaches Discipline

Stopping on cue, moving, or singing as part of a group or learning an instrument all teach discipline. There are rules to follow and protocols to complete.

Learning an instrument takes self-restraint and discipline, putting aside other activities to be available to practice. Skills are built over time, making mistakes, and persevering until skills are mastered.

15. Music Builds Creativity

Have you ever heard a child create their own song? The words may be silly, and it may not sound like much to you, but the completed song result is a culmination of several processes in the brain.

Music offers opportunities to compose, create and improvise on ideas they may have seen or heard. It offers an avenue of self-expression where there is no right or wrong, where the creator can make any type of sound in whatever order they wish.

16. Music Accelerates Brain Development

Studies have found that music training speeds up brain development in children. Reading music, playing music and all that it entails requires multiple areas of the brain to perform tasks simultaneously.

In addition to all the other benefits that have been mentioned, research has also discovered long-term positive links between music learning and IQ.

One of the skills music develops is the ability to more easily detect slight changes in pitch when melodies are different. It also allows children to detect gaps in between sounds.

These essential auditory and brain skills were found to be improved and accelerated in children with only 2 years of musical training during childhood.

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