Music is everywhere! It plays over the radio, backtracks to television programmes, is piped in shops, restaurants, surgeries, resonates through us, in us, about us. Day in day out music is a huge part of our life, affecting our moods and emotions and for many it is the cornerstone of their existence; their being. Composer, trumpeters, flautists, singers, drummers, guitarists and more come together to create music.
Shakespeare said “if music be the food of love, play on.” Hans Christian Andersen said “where words fail, music speaks”. Plato describes music as the moral law “It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”
And yet we are sometimes left asking what is it about music that is so important? And why is music so important in the lives of children in particular?
Research over the years has gained considerable evidence to support the notion that music is critical in a child’s development. Various studies have been undertaken to show that children who are exposed to a music education will have larger growth of neural activity and as such it can increase their IQ as well as help in their language development. There is a growing body of statistically significant evidence to support that exposure to music has a positive effect on the brain.
Children who are exposed to music benefit academically. Research has shown that music stimulates parts of the brain that are related to reading, maths and emotional development. (children’s music specialist Meredith LeVande of MonkeyMonkeyMusic.com) . Musical training develops the left hand side of the brain that is involved in processing language whilst some research has found causal links between music and spatial intelligence which demonstrates that an understanding of music helps children to visualize patterns and various elements that go together in line with solving mathematical problems. Music therefore has the potential to give children an academic advantage.
Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, published a study in 2007 revealing that students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored about 22% higher in English and 20% higher in Maths on standardised tests compared to those in schools delivering low-quality music programs, regardless of their socio-economic status
Other research has found that exposure to music can be beneficial to a child’s IQ. E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto published a study in 2004 that found increases in the IQs of six year olds who were given weekly voice and piano lessons. After nine months of these lessons, the twelve six year olds were shown to have on average three IQ points higher than the other groups who have been given drama lessons or no lessons at all.
There is also evidence to show that participation in music from an early age can help improve a child’s learning ability and memory by stimulating different patterns of brain development.
Music is a collaboration. Children involved in ensembles and musical groups learn important life skills; how to relate to others, work as a team and develop leadership skills and discipline (Marturet)
In society, music plays an important role culturally. Children who have exposure to all sorts of music are also exposed to the cultures from which this music has derived and as such not only do they learn about different countries and cultures but they are also encouraged to vary their music tastes and bond with children with different tastes.
Music also helps children to learn how to communicate. By helping children to express their emotions, music attunes them to their different states in a positive and helpful way. Michael Jolkovski, a psychologist who specializes in musicians, suggests that the breadth and depth of music allows children to express even the most subtle emotions and music can bring them great pleasure
Taking part in an ensemble or group also teaches children delayed gratification. The need to wait for a turn to play in a piece, or to stick with the learning of an instrument sometimes doesn’t happen immediately. This waiting teaches patience and the importance of taking turns (Elizabeth Dotson-Westphalen, a music teacher and performer).
Children who learn an instrument also develop the skill of playing their instrument by themselves and gain confidence in the fact that the more they work at it, the better they get. This confidence cross pollenates to other areas of their lives encouraging them to focus on what they do.
Children who have regular exposure to music by moving and dancing to music and playing instruments can be helped to improve their fine and gross motor skills. Making music additionally has other proven benefits physiologically which goes beyond childhood into adulthood even where music is enjoyed just recreationally. Focussing on learning songs etc improves concentration, whilst the tempo of music helps regulate breathing and respiration rates more naturally. Playing music has also been seen to correlate with reduced stress hormones, increase dexterity and balance and of course align with a more relaxed state.
Finally, music is a creative pursuit which is good for the mind, the soul and the body.
Undeniably the benefits of musical exposure to a child’s development are unquestioned and the quantity of research supporting this continues to enlarge. Musical activities stimulate development in every area of the brain. Children who are therefore able to access musical opportunities can potentially see improvements academically, socially, emotionally and physically. But what is more important is that these are not limited to childhood alone but will take them into adulthood and beyond!
“The arts are a fundamentally important part of culture, and an education without them is an impoverished education leading to an impoverished society. Studying the arts should not have to be justified in terms of anything else. The arts are as important as the sciences: they are time-honored ways of learning, knowing, and expressing” (Hetland and Winner (2001)