Children and Music Benefits
Parents should instinctively use music to calm and soothe children, to express
love and joy, and to engage and interact. Parents can build on these natural
instincts by learning how music can impact child development, improve social
skills, and benefit children of all ages.
Music Benefits to the Brain
A 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Institute found that musical experiences in childhood can accelerate brain development, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills. According to the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM Foundation), learning to play an instrument can improve mathematical learning and even increase SAT scores.
But academic achievement is not the only benefit of music education and
exposure. Music ignites all areas of child development and skills for school
readiness, including intellectual, social-emotional, motor, language, and overall
literacy. It helps the body and the mind work together. Exposing children to music during early development helps them learn the sounds and meanings of words. Dancing to music helps children build motor skills while allowing them to practice self-expression. For children and adults, music helps strengthen memory skills. In addition to the developmental benefits, music brings us joy. Just think about listening to a good song in the car with the window down on a beautiful day.
Learning an Instrument or vocal
The children learn to play instruments, such as the piano, violin, and guitar in ensembles and groups, and they practice up to seven hours a week. The scientists are comparing the budding musicians with peers in two other groups: 11 children in a community soccer program, and 13 children who are not involved in any specific after-school programs.
Neuroscientists are using several tools to monitor changes in them as they
grow: MRI to monitor changes through brain scans, EEG to track electrical activity in the brain, behavioral testing, and other such techniques.
Within two years of the study, the neuroscientists found the auditory systems of
children in the music program were maturing faster in them than in the other
children. The fine-tuning of their auditory pathway could accelerate their
development of language and reading, as well as other abilities – a potential
effect which scientists are continuing to study.
Enhancing maturity reflects an increase in neuroplasticity – a physiological change in the brain in response to its environment – in this case, exposure to music and music instruction.
“The auditory system is stimulated by music,” Habibi said. “This system is also
engaged in general sound processing that is fundamental to language
development, reading skills, and successful communication.
Ear to Brain
The auditory system connects our ear to our brain to process sound. When we
hear something, our ears receive it in the form of vibrations that convert into a
neural signal. That signal is then sent to the brainstem, up to the thalamus at the
center of the brain, and outward to its destination, the primary auditory cortex,
located near the sides of the brain.
The progress of a child’s developing auditory pathway can be measured by EEG, which tracks electrical signals, specifically those referred to as “auditory evoked potentials.”
In this study, the scientists focused on an evoked potential called P1. They tracked amplitude – the number of neurons firing – and latency – the speed at which the signal is transmitted. Both measures infer the maturity of the brain’s auditory pathways.
As children develop, both the amplitude and the latency of P1 tend to decrease. This means that they are becoming more efficient at processing sound.
At the beginning of the study and again two years later, the children completed a
task measuring their abilities to distinguish tone. As the EEG was recording their
electrical signals, they listened to violin tones, piano tones, and single-frequency
(pure) tones played.
The children also completed a tonal and rhythm discrimination task in which they were asked to identify similar and different melodies. Twice, they heard 24
melodies in randomized order and were asked to identify which ones differed in
tone and rhythm, which were the same in tone and rhythm.
Children who were in the youth orchestra program were more accurate at
detecting pitch changes in the melodies than the other two groups. All three
groups were able to identify easily when the melodies were the same. However,
children with music training had smaller P1 potential amplitude than the
other children, indicating a faster maturation rate.
“We observed a decrease in P1 amplitude and latency that was the largest in the music group compared to age-matched control groups after two years of
training,” the scientists wrote. “In addition, focusing just on the (second) year
data, the music group showed the smallest amplitude of P1 compared to both the control and sports group, in combination with the accelerated development of the N1 component.”
The study was funded by Brain and Creativity Research Funds.
Co-authors of the study were BCI neuroscientists B. Rael Cahn, and co-directors of BCI Antonio Damasio and Hanna Damasio.
Music Games and Activities
Try these activities and games with your children to experience the pleasure and
learning that music brings.
Infants and Music: Infants recognize the melody of a song long before they
understand the words. Quiet background music can be soothing for infants,
especially during sleep time. Sing simple, short songs to infants. Try making up
one or two lines about bathing, dressing, or eating to sing to them while you do
Preschoolers and Music: Preschoolers enjoy singing just to be singing. They are not self-conscious about their ability, and most are eager to let their voices roar. They like songs that repeat words and melodies, use rhythms with a definite beat, and ask them to do things and follow directions. Preschool children enjoy nursery rhymes and songs about familiar things like toys, animals, play activities, and people. They also like fingerplays and nonsense rhymes with or without musical accompaniment.
School-Age Children and Music: School-age children begin expressing their likes and dislikes of diverse types of music. They may express an interest in music education, such as music lessons for kids.
There is no downside to bringing children and music together through fun activities. We can enjoy the benefits of music from the moment we are born. From the pure pleasure of listening to soothing sounds and rhythmic harmonies to gaining new language and social skills, music can enliven and enrich the lives of children and the people who care for them.
Get involved in a music education program together. Look for a shared parent-child music experience in your community. These programs focus on joyfully exploring music in an interactive, social, and creative way. The classes follow your child’s lead, encourage you to jump in and jointly create music, and do not require you to carry a tune or skillfully play an instrument. The classes explore beats through movement, clapping, and simple instruments such as rhythm sticks, bells, and drums. By focusing on a core group of children’s songs, children develop language skills through repeated exposure to lyrics and sound patterns.
Expose children to various instruments. Some orchestras and chamber groups offer child-friendly concerts. Look for ones that are geared to young children. These are shorter, interactive sessions, where a conductor or storyteller may highlight a specific instrument such as the cello, trombone, or xylophone, and allow children to interact with the instrument. Many organizations, libraries, and music colleges offer low-cost or free events within their surrounding communities. Look for one in your area. If these do not fit into your schedule, try offering musical experiences at home
Play music. Just playing various genres in your home throughout the day or using music to set a tone—classical or soft music near bedtime, energizing music in the morning—gives your child a feel for how music can impact our mood by helping to inspire, motivate, or relax us.
Move to the music. By instinct, adults sway and move when holding infants.
Babies respond to the music in turn by moving as they are able. Hum softly to
calm your child as you rock them. Play music for babies of differing beats and
tempos and move your child’s arms up and down, or pat their legs to the beat.
Make up rhymes. Toddlers thrive on repetition. Play or sing some of your child’s
favorite songs on repeat and encourage your child to join in as she naturally
memorizes the words. Toddlers also like silly fun. Once your child has learned a
toddler song, encourage them to change the words to make a unique, funny
Experiment with instruments and sounds. Collect materials around the house and explore the sounds they make as a part of a fun music game for families. Have each family member create their own instrument from a variety of
household materials. Use these instruments to form a family band and play music together. March around the house and build on each other’s improvisation.
Try music lessons. At about the age of six, children may begin to show interest in playing an instrument. It is important to allow your child to use instruments to
further an understanding of music, rather than focusing on practicing to
proficiency. So often, at this age, once the focus changes to proficiency, children’s joy in music disappears. Begin music lessons slowly. However, you choose to bring music into your family life, whether it is simply listening to the radio and singing along, attending live music events or making up silly rhymes and music games, have fun exposing your child to the wide variety of music that exists in our world.
Find Live performances. Going somewhere with your baby to listen to music can be a fun, effortless way to get out of the house, and it will introduce your little one too so many new sounds, environments, and social situations. Start low-key with live music at the local library, bookstores, coffee shops, outdoor
neighborhood festivals, and summer family concerts. If you and your baby enjoy
these performances, see if the local symphony puts on kid-friendly concerts or
head to a church sing-along.
Put music into daily activities. You do not have to set aside a specific time of the day to focus on music. Instead, make it part of everyday activities. You are familiar with the clean-up song; why not create something similar for bath time and getting dressed? Sing while you feed your baby, change diapers, and make getting in the car seat a musical experience, too.
Positive, Worship Music
Studies have found that music can help individuals feel less discomfort and pain
before, during, and after surgery. Try it the next time your child gets a minor
injury. Play some relaxing music and snuggle together for a little TLC and bonding. Listening to music can release endorphins, the brain's "feel good"; chemicals. If your child is feeling cranky or dragging his feet to complete a chore, try turning on some music to get energy levels up.
Music can help children and adults express emotions and create a shared
experience. Share a favorite song with your child and ask your child to do the
same. Regularly sharing music can provide insight into how your child – especially teens – are feeling.
Research has shown that rhythm and melodies help our brains form patterns to
improve memory. Music can improve memory, recall, and attention.
One study found that structured music lessons can improve language-based
reasoning, short-term memory, planning, and inhibition. It can also improve
children's visual and spatial memory, underscoring the benefits of playing a
However, you enjoy positive music, find a few simple ways to make music a part
of your family's everyday life to enjoy all the benefits it has to offer.
Most love listening to Christian music…whether it be traditional hymns, praise songs we sing in my church, or (some) contemporary Christian music we hear on the radio.
The human spirit loves singing to our Heavenly Father. I love to hear lyrics that
remind us of what our Savior did for us and how beautiful His love is. We love
singing about His perfect and unmatched character, proclaiming truths aloud. And we love that the Spirit convicts us and moves in our hearts using some of the lyrics we hear.
It is just a fact that Christian music gets stuck in our heads, whether intentional or not. How many times have you heard a jingle, theme song, or a song that
someone else was singing only to be singing it to yourself later?! Because of this, the lyrics to the songs we listen to do matter. What do you want to repeatedly hear throughout the day? Something based on a lie or something that can remind you of your true beliefs.
This reason is especially why it is important to listen to Christian music
throughout the day.
In our fast-paced busy lives, we get caught up in whatever we are doing. We are
distracted and our minds, emotions, and desires are focused on ourselves. We get impatient with the car going too slow. We feel mad at a text we just read. We are late again and beating ourselves up thinking we can never do anything right…then we turn on the Christian radio/our own playlist and suddenly our heart changes. We become patient. We are reminded to be forgiving and full of grace. We hear of God’s mercies and never-ending kindness despite our faults.
Christian music encourages us when we need it most. Songs of ministry remind us just how important the body is to worship. Christian songs speak to hidden
imperfections in our life.