The Benefits of Music on Child Development

By Jovanka Ciares and Paul Borgese

Childhood is an exciting, fun and challenging period of life. Every new experience is an opportunity to learn and grow. It is the most critical time for building the physical, mental and emotional foundations that will support us for the rest of our lives.

As parents and loved ones, we should strive to give our children the tools to build a successful life, and one of the best choices you can make for your children is giving them the gift of music. We should encourage our children as early as possible to listen to and make music. Children can start by listening to their favorite songs and accompanying the music with simple instruments made from household products. (See the instructions on how to make various simple musical instruments in the Free Special Reports section of www.PaulBorgese.com). They can then advance to playing more complex musical instruments and perhaps even take formal lessons.

Music and Skill Development

In addition to improving creativity, learning music cultivates many skills that will continue to be useful to your children throughout their lives. The following are some of the skills that listening to music and taking music lessons help develop in children:

  • Concentration
    Learning a musical instrument will help your child develop concentration, as they must focus on a particular activity over extended periods of time. Developing concentration in this way also will help them when they must focus their attention on other subjects at school.

  • Coordination
    Practicing musical instruments improves hand-eye coordination. Children develop important motor skills when playing music just as they do when playing different sports.

  • Relaxation
    More and more, music therapy is being used to complement more traditional forms of medicine. Researchers acknowledge that certain types of music can aid relaxation by lowering heart rates and blood pressure.

  • Patience
    and Perseverance In order to learn a musical instrument, children must develop patience and perseverance, which will help them later in life when they must tackle other more difficult challenges.

  • Self-Confidence
    The act of learning and playing an instrument, the encouragement of a teacher and the enthusiasm of a proud parent, will build in a child a sense of pride and confidence. Moreover, children who practice self-expression and creativity often become better communicators later in life.
Researchers also have found a significant relationship between music instruction and positive performances in such areas as: reading comprehension, spelling, mathematics, listening skills, primary mental abilities (verbal, perceptual, numeric, spatial) and motor skills.

Research on Music, Computer Training and Child Development

With the rise of the Internet and the proliferation of high-tech jobs that require computer skills, there seems to be less interest in music and arts education. Fortunately, while all this is happening, several studies by experts in the field are demonstrating that studying the arts — particularly music — can actually help develop skills necessary when learning about computers.

Several studies by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is based at Brown University, explored the effects of art and music education on young children's learning. The conclusions of these studies support the theory that music instruction can help build intellectual and emotional skills, facilitate children's learning and strengthen other academic areas, such as reading and math. Also, these studies indicate that music can positively affect children and adults of all ages.

The conclusions of these Brown University studies are consistent with other research on music and its effect on child development. One study (by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and the University of California) shows that when three and four-year-old children were given simple piano lessons over a six-month period, they performed 34% better than other children in IQ tests, some of whom had had computer lessons instead. These impressive results came from a study of 789 children from diverse social and economic backgrounds.

In an interview, one of the researchers from the University of California said: "Music training jump starts certain inherent patterns in parts of the brain responsible for spatial-temporal reasoning." Computer lessons, on the other hand, do not force children to think ahead or visualize, as they must when playing a piece of music.

Several studies indicate that the reading level of students with one year of music was nearly one grade higher than their peers without such music training. Children with two years of music experience had scores equivalent to two years ahead of their reading age, and these statistics improved with music experience.

Research has shown that music touches at-risk children in special ways as well. Music introduced into their environment seems to make them more relaxed and receptive to learning.

Other research findings made during studies conducted from 1996 to 1999 show the following:

  • 1996 — Children in Rhode Island elementary schools who were given enriched, skill-building music classes showed marked improvement in reading and math skills. Students in the program who had started out at lower reading and math skill levels than those of children in the control group caught up to statistical equality in reading and pulled ahead in math.

  • 1997 — Researchers found that children given piano lessons improved much more dramatically in their spatial-temporal IQ scores (important for some types of mathematical reasoning) than children who received computer lessons or no lessons.

  • 1997 — A research team exploring the link between music and intelligence reported that music training is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children's abstract reasoning skills, the skills necessary for learning math and science.

  • 1998 — A McGill University study found that pattern recognition and mental representation scores improved significantly for students given music instruction for a three-year period. They also found that self-esteem improved while they were taking music lessons.

  • 1999 — Students with experience in music performance and music appreciation scored higher on the SAT than students with no music education: 53 points higher on the verbal and 39 points higher on the math for music performance; 61 points higher on the verbal and 42 points higher on the math for music appreciation.

For more information on research studies that focus on music and child development, see the Free Special Report titled The Mozart Effect: Fact or Fiction?

Selecting Music for Children

When they are around three years old, most children begin to take a real interest in music activities of all kinds. It is a good time for parents and teachers to begin mixing music with games that require body movement, such as clapping, waving, jumping and dancing. Sing-along games are ideal for initiating movement and bringing children together in enjoyable group activities.

Children age four and five are more consistent music-makers and also are more aware of the messages in song lyrics. Children at this age are ready to sit attentively for a short performance or to listen to a short recording. Complementing the education given at school with music that teaches important lessons is recommended for this age group. Appropriate activities also include lessons in music appreciation, playing instruments and learning to write lyrics to simple melodies.

Children age six to ten can start learning that music has structure. Rhymes, repetition and experimenting with different sounds also can be used for speech and reading development. This is the ideal time to actively teach a child a musical instrument or expose them to choral groups. Research has indicated that children at this age will start showing the positive effects of music training in their academic performance.

Conclusion

Music has proven to provide many more benefits to children and adults than simple entertainment. It has even proven to help patients recover from diseases or surgery more quickly and with less pain. Much research currently is being undertaken to learn the effects of music on the mind and body, yet we now know from findings of several of the most prestigious researchers in the field that it can have very positive effects on child development.

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