Friday, September 20, 2013

Why You're Children Should Learn Music

Research shows the benefits of studying music and playing an instrument can be substantial.

"There are a great many reasons why children should learn to play music," says Dr Richard Letts, the executive director of the Music Council of Australia.

"If a child studies music constantly over a period of time, they do better in school in all sorts of ways, including academically and socially."

The earlier a child ... comes to grips with music, the more the brain growth will be influenced. It sets them up for life. 

Dr Richard LettsMusic Council of Australia

Music can support kids' school work
Children who study music from an early age can do better at a range of subjects such as maths, science, arts and language, Richard says. They also learn that there are rewards from hard work, practice, and discipline.

"If a person is engaged in making music, the brain will grow to support the activity as it would for any activity – but in the case of music it appears other abilities also increase. The consequence is that children who study music have an accelerated learning in other academic subjects," he says.

"The earlier a child ... comes to grips with music, the more the brain growth will be influenced. It sets them up for life."

Richard points to an American publication Champions of Change – The Impact of the Arts on Learning. It presents reports from teams of researchers that examined a range of arts education programs and their impact on learning and socialisation.

The reports show learning to read music with its concepts of time, rhythm and pitch, seemed to have a direct effect on a child's ability at maths.

One study showed clear links between sustained involvement in music and theatre, and success in maths and reading, particularly for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. Key findings included:

Year 8 students who were involved in arts were more likely to do better academically than those who had a low level of arts education.

By Year 12, the likelihood of better academic performance was even greater.
All students who were involved in music were more likely to excel at maths than other students.
Students from low socio-economic backgrounds who studied music were twice as likely to excel in maths as students from low socio-economic backgrounds who didn't study music.
There are other benefits too says Margaret Bradley, a music expert with the NSW Department of Education and Communities.

"Playing in a group, working together and developing negotiation skills are complex processes you have to work through to build a certain confidence," she says.

"Playing an instrument is also a physical thing. It develops fine motor skills, the kind of motor skills you need to have to become a surgeon for example."

It can also enhance a child's overall health and wellbeing, and increase stamina, she says.

"The same focus and discipline is needed to play an instrument or participate in athletics."

More benefits for kids who play music
  1. Children learn to embrace other cultures through their music.
  2. It develops teamwork and shared goals.
  3. The overall experience of listening to music is dramatically enhanced.
  4. Music can assist active listening, which is beneficial in a range of things from taking part in conversations to building more satisfying friendships.
  5. Children can also explore emotions through music, which may help them better understand who they are.

10 Benefits for Children in Learning Music

They say that music is the universal language. Regardless of where you are from or what your background, a good melody is something that everyone can enjoy and understand. There must be something behind that, right?

For children, music provides many, many benefits. Experts agree, there are lots of good things about letting your child learn to play an instrument. Here are 10 reasons why your child should put down the remote and pick up a musical instrument.

1. IT WILL BOOST THEIR BRAIN POWER

Want to give your child a mental advantage? Music can do that. "More and more studies show a correlation between higher academic achievement with children who are exposed to music," says children's music specialist Meredith LeVande of MonkeyMonkeyMusic.com. "Music simply stimulates parts of the brain that are related to reading, math, and emotional development."

2. IT WILL IMPROVE THEIR MEMORY

Where did that shoe go? That's a question asked far too many times in far too many households with kids. Help your kids remember more (and learn more!) with music. "Further research has shown that participation in music at an early age can help improve a child's learning ability and memory by stimulating different patterns of brain development," says Maestro Eduardo Marturet, a conductor, composer and musical director for the Miami Symphony Orchestra.

3. IT HELPS THEM SOCIALLY

Picking up an instrument can also help your child break out of their social shell too, experts say. "Socially, children who become involved in a musical group or ensemble learn important life skills, such as how to relate to others, how to work as a team and appreciate the rewards that come from working together, and the development of leadership skills and discipline," says Marturet, who also oversees the MISO Young Artist program in South Florida, which allows young musicians to hone their musical skills as part of a professional orchestra.

4. IT'S A CONFIDENCE BUILDER

Are there any areas of life that aren't enhanced by having good confidence? Probably not. And if you want your child to develop their confidence, learning to play a musical instrument can help.
"They find that they can develop a skill by themselves, that they can get better and better," says Elizabeth Dotson-Westphalen, a music teacher and performer.

5. IT TEACHES PATIENCE

We live in a world of instant gratification, but real life demands having patience. When you are playing in a band or orchestra (and most musicians do), you have to be willing to wait your turn to play otherwise the sound is a mess. That inadvertently teaches patience. "You need to work together in a group to make music," says Dotson-Westphalen.

6. IT CAN HELP THEM CONNECT

Who doesn't sometimes feel a little disconnected from their lives? Music can be a much-needed connection for kids (and adults too!). "It can satisfy the need to unwind from the worries of life, but unlike the other things people often use for this purpose, such as excessive eating, drinking, or TV or aimless web browsing, it makes people more alive and connected with one another," says Michael Jolkovski, a psychologist who specializes in musicians.

7. IT'S CONSTANT LEARNING

In some pursuits, you can never truly learn everything there is to know. Music is like that. "It is inexhaustible -- there is always more to learn," says Jolkovski.

8. IT'S A GREAT FORM OF EXPRESSION

People pay a lot of lip-service to expressing yourself. But how can kids really do that? One great way is through the arts -- like music. "It gives pleasure and expresses nuances of emotional life for which there are no words," says Jolkovski.

9. IT TEACHES DISCIPLINE

There's this old joke that begins "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" The answer? "Practice, practice, practice." To improve in music, you have to not only do well in classes, but devote time to practicing outside of the lessons too. That requires discipline. "Exposing kids to musical instruments is the key. They are naturally curious and excited about them -- and the discipline that parents AND kids learn by sticking with it is a lesson in itself," says Mira Stulberg-Halpert of 3D Learner Inc., who works with children who have ADHD.

10. IT FOSTERS CREATIVITY

Above all, playing music -- particularly as kids get to more advanced levels in it -- is a creative pursuit. Creatively is good for the mind, body and soul.

Learning Music For Children

Early enrolment could be the key to your child getting the most out of music lessons.
A new study shows that individuals who start learning to play musical instruments before the age of seven have stronger connections in certain parts of the brain, suggesting there is a developmental window when children are most susceptible to picking up specific skills.
“What we found was that people who start their music lessons earlier in life have better performance on certain kinds of tasks and also have differences in the connections between the motor regions of their brain,” says psychology professor Virginia Penhune of Concordia University, who co-authored the study.
“Overall, earlier is better,” she says, noting that individuals who begin their musical training at the age of four will likely perform better than those who start at the age of six. But the window for creating a lasting impact on motor abilities and brain structure appears to close by about age nine.
The study examined 36 trained musicians, half of whom began studying music before age seven and the other half after seven. All had at least seven years of musical experience. The participants were asked to perform a task that required tapping out a rhythm to assess their motor timing and synchronization. Researchers also collected magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brains.
The researchers found that musicians who started training before the age of seven had better synchronization and more accurate timing, and they had greater connectivity in specific areas of the corpus callosum, which allows the left and right hemispheres of the brain to communicate. Meanwhile, the brain images of musicians who began training after the age of seven were found to be no different to those of non-musicians, who had little to no training at all.
Penhune suggests these results may apply more generally to other types of training, such as learning a new language or picking up a new sport.
“It’s really telling us something about how the brain responds to experience,” she says. “Our idea here is that if you start when you’re younger, it facilitates [learning]. And maybe it’s also the case that if you learn it when you’re younger, then you can build on that.”
But Penhune warns that enrolling your children in music classes at a young age will not necessarily increase their chances of becoming great musicians.
“It’s changing your brain and it’s changing your behaviour,” she says, but there are many other factors at play.

Learn with music

For young children, music is often a source of great enjoyment. But it's also a playful and meaningful avenue for their intellectual, physical and emotional development. Making music with young children won't necessarily help them develop into musicians as adults, but it will nurture their growth and development in many ways. 


Most parents and teachers have seen young children demonstrate astonishing musical capacities as they respond to beautiful tunes, meaningful lyrics and interesting rhythms in their musical play. Many of us have also witnessed children who may not readily demonstrate their cognitive abilities through words, yet often express their understandings as they sing, move, or rhythmically speak. 

These are just some of the ways that making music can support the development of a young child. Here are a few examples of the benefits of musical play:

  • It helps children express and make meaning of their experiences. Through musical play, children become aware, explore, and make choices about musical sound. Musical play also provides a social connection for children as they sing, dance, and make music with others.
  • It builds learning connections. When an infant communicates with an adult by matching pitches as he coos and babbles, their musical conversation helps affirm and encourage his self-esteem.
  • It stimulates a child's creative abilities. Language connections occur as a child decides on words and rhymes for a song, plays her name on a drum, or moves to the expressive sound of music.
Music is a way for children and adults to make powerful learning connections. The quality of that learning experience depends not only on musical materials, but also on the ways in which parents and other adults shape these musical conversations to create personal meaning for the child. 

There are many ways for parents and other adults to engage in musical conversations with young children. One simple step involves nodding, smiling, encouraging and singing along expressively with children. You can encourage children to sing, move, dramatize stories, or add instruments as they bring words to life in a story or a poem. Finger puppets or body movements can help dramatize a nursery rhyme for children. Encouraging a child to move to music gives him opportunities to express the qualities of the music, and to respond to rhythm and melody. And even at a very young age, simple percussive instruments can help her learn about rhythmic patterns and mathematical relations. 

One important thing to remember is that musical activities with young children should be interactive. Through singing, playing, moving, listening and other experiences, you can stimulate children's thinking and decision-making, and encourage creativity. 
By engaging in these musical conversations with children, you can create a wonderful learning connection. When you're making music, both you and the child can grow and learn. 

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