Think back for a moment to your first memory of enjoying music. Maybe it was learning rhyming songs as a toddler, or maybe it’s hearing your mom or dad sing songs in the kitchen while cooking. As you grew, maybe you learned to play an instrument in a school band or orchestra. Remember how powerful it felt to hear the tunes emerge and join with the other instruments? For most of us, music plays at least some role in our lives. Music provides a uniquely human expression of both emotion and skill. It’s natural that we would want to share the gift of music with our children. Luckily, music is not only enjoyable, but the cognitive and emotional benefits of music education for children are clear.
Cognitive Benefits of Music Education
There has been a lot of discussion in the media in recent years about the possible links between music exposure and children’s cognitive abilities. Do you remember that story about how listening to Mozart music makes children smarter? While that particular story turned out to be misleading (a journalistic misinterpretation of research), there is quite a lot of scientific evidence that shows links between music training and increased cognitive and academic abilities.
Music training (i.e., learning an instrument and/or learning to read music), in particular, has been linked to particular cognitive skills such as improved language-based reasoning and the ability to plan, organize and complete tasks. The idea is that the cognitive skills required to learn music carry over into other similar skills, many of which aid academic performance as well. Another study showed that children who participated in music education had better vocabulary and verbal sequencing skills as compared to children with no musical training. Researchers hypothesize that these skills could be helpful in boosting children’s reading skills.
Even among adolescents, for whom some might assume it is “too late” to reap cognitive benefits of music, one study showed more rapid brain maturation in response to sound, which led to improved language skills. Although none of these studies conclusively establish that music education causes increases in cognitive abilities, the links are strong and have been consistently found.
Researchers who examine the link between music training and cognitive skills using more complex analyses concur that a clear “X causes Y” relationship may never be found. They tend to look at the benefits of music education more holistically. From this perspective, it seems that perhaps a similar learning process underlies many of these areas, both musical and academic. University of Kansas professor Martin Burgee explains it this way:
“Based on the findings…there might be, and probably are, general learning processes that underlie all academic achievement, no matter what the area is. Music achievement, math achievement, reading achievement⏤there are probably more generalized processes of the mind that are brought to bear on any of those areas. Therefore, if your goal is to educate the person⏤to develop the person’s mind⏤then you need to educate the whole person.”
From a parenting perspective, this is perhaps the best music for our ears. For most parents, the idea of educating the whole person is just the goal in mind when we think of our children. It’s nice to think that music is a lovely, enjoyable way in which to meet that goal.
The Emotional Magic of Music
It doesn’t require much pondering to think of ways in which music influences human behavior, and emotions. Just turn on a happy tune in a room full of preschoolers and you will soon see impromptu dancing. Children who were once begrudgingly doing their chores will now perk up and clean with a spring in their step when their favorite song comes on the radio. Our instinct tells us that music has the power to influence behavior and emotions. But what about the science of music and emotion? What does science tell us about how exposing children to music might influence their behavior and, in particular, their social-emotional skills?
In the same way that your favorite song has the power to lift your mood, one of the benefits of music education seems to be the potential to influence children’s behavior and emotions as well. A study of 4-year-olds illustrates this well. Young children in a joint music-making class were shown to exhibit more cooperative and helpful behavior. Researchers believe that the process of group music-making helps reinforce for children the communal goals of the setting. They realize the joy of sharing not only music but emotions, activities, and experiences.
Other promising research looks at how the process of learning music might impact children’s social-emotional skills. Some studies have shown how music lessons are linked to increases in self-esteem in children. Just as with the 4-year-olds, it is believed that even among older children, the group cohesiveness promoted by music training helps boost feelings of confidence and self-esteem. Additionally, researchers believe that receiving positive feedback from music instructors also supports children’s self-esteem. Even among children and adolescents who struggle with aggressive tendencies, the benefits of music education are seen. At least two studies have shown that children attending music lessons tend to decline in aggressive behavior, gain higher self-esteem, and develop greater self-control. It seems the emotional power of music is not just in our hearts but squarely based on science as well.
Sharing the Love of Music at Home
Opening your children’s eyes (and ears) to the beauty of music doesn’t have to seem like one more chore on your parenting to-do list. It’s easy to start enjoying music with your children as babies and toddlers. Little ones love hearing rhyming songs or songs that incorporate fun hand motions. As your children grow, you might consider introducing them to your favorite music. Do you have a composer or singer you really love? Share them with your children (at developmentally-appropriate ages). While watching movies, point out the soundtrack to your child and see if they take note of how the music enhances the movie experience. Just be careful which songs you choose–no doubt your child will soon be singing or listening to these songs on repeat for weeks to come! Your children will likely have their own musical tastes by the time they reach the age of adolescence. With guidance from you, however, hopefully they will have developed an ear for what great music sounds like.
If your child is ready to dive into their own musical creation process, BYJU’S FutureSchool offers high-quality music education programs for children. Children will have the opportunity to reap all the benefits of music education from the comfort of their own home. This structured music curriculum offers children the chance to learn how to create their own music and even perform in virtual concerts. Personalized learning plans mean that each child is able to learn music that they enjoy, which increases motivation greatly. Guidance and support from a knowledgeable instructor helps each child stay on track with their progress.
Whether it be through learning music or being an avid fan, music has the ability to enhance all of our lives. Giving the gift of music to our children can spark a lifelong passion⏤or at least a great way to de-stress and appreciate one of our most meaningful human art forms.