Music and your child’s brain

Music play

Singing and music play an important role in our culture and are present in a variety of our social and educational activities: theatre, television, cinema, celebrations, worship etc. From birth, parents instinctively use music to calm and soothe children, to express their love and joy, and to engage and interact.

Research undertaken by a team of researchers in the 1990s showed that the exposure to music from early childhood onwards helps children to speak more clearly, develop a larger vocabulary, and strengthen social and emotional skills.  Children who also had musical training (minimum of three years) outperformed other children in tests on non-verbal reasoning, auditory discrimination, vocabulary and fine motor skills.

The psychologist Howard Gardner already argued in 1983 that music intelligence is as important as logical and emotional intelligence. This is because music has the ability to strengthen the connection between the body and brain to work together as a team. For instance, when dancing and moving to music, children develop better motor skills whereas singing along to a song helps them to practise their singing voice and improve their language skills. In general, the exposure to music supports children in their development process to learn the sound of tones and words. Exposure to music also benefits a child’s social and emotional development too.

Music can impact our emotional and psychological states. When we listen to calming or happy music the body produces ‘happy’ hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin.  These bring with them the feelings of pleasure and happiness. If parents play happy, lively music they can help cheer their children up and equally playing calm music will help with relaxation.

Music can help children express their emotions.  Playing sad music can have the effect of making the listener feel sad and this can help small children express these feelings (during times of stress or difficulty)

Music can help with forming long term memories. Listening to music seems to light up the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for storing long term memories. So while many things might be going on at the time of making the memory, it’s the music that is likely to form a particularly strong association with that recollection. Those suffering with Alzheimer’s and dementia can even be aided in recalling previously lost memories through the use of music.

Parents play the most important role in musical education and the more exposure that a child has to music and music play at home improves a child’s music ability far beyond those who have no exposure.

Music and singing is used throughout our Baby College classes; from the very beginning with our Hello Song, dancing, music play, action rhymes all the way through to our parachute ride and Goodbye Song.  We use traditional nursery rhymes and modern variations to help give parents inspiration for play at home.

Ideas for parents:

  • Dancing with your baby whilst listening to your favourite songs
  • Singing nursery rhymes
  • Tapping out the beat onto your baby (feet, legs, hands) when you are listening to music or singing nursery rhymes
  • Bouncing baby on your knees to the rhythm of the song/rhyme
  • Older children – pots and pans drum set
  • Make homemade shakers for/with your child
  • Action rhymes


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