Science has spoken: Musicians have better brains! The study and practice of music has many positive effects on brain development, explains Katie Anstiss.
Do you have memories of learning to play the recorder at primary school? Many of us will remember painstakingly working through “Mary Had A Little Lamb” note by careful note, often to the ears of a less-than-enthusiastic parental audience when it came to practice time at home!
However, as an adult, you may be better for that experience: Research into the positive impact that music has on brain development is an ongoing area of study, but there are several key benefits that we know the practice of music at a young age can bring. Singing, learning, and playing music have so many advantages for a child developmentally.
So what are these advantages?
1. Positive brain development
Music impacts positively on brain development in a way that is “embedded for life,” creating increased verbal memory in adults, enhanced language and verbal abilities, along with greater literacy skills. This is because learning to play an instrument activates the auditory and motor regions of the brain, as well as the area of the brain used for self-appraisal and emotional regulation.
2. Understanding of rhythm
Creating opportunities for a child to understand and internalise rhythm is one of the most important aspects of music education. The understanding of rhythm supports temporal processing (the ability to process and comprehend auditory information). This is what we struggle with as adults when someone gives us directions and we “blank” on exactly what they just said. Rhythm also helps a child to develop concentration, hones the ability to focus, and helps to support a vast range of cognitive skills.
4. Coordination and brain function
The advantages of musical education are compounded when combined with whole-body rhythmic activity and body percussion – which also supports kinaesthetic learning, assists with motor skill development, coordination, and right brain/left brain functioning. This is a key benefit to students of music.
5. Development of fine motor skills
There is also a physical benefit for children learning music: It is helpful for the development of fine and gross motor skills. Singing, action songs, and dancing to music all help children to develop control over their limbs, as does learning how to beat on a drum or how to hold a musical instrument (such as a wooden block). Practising finger motions (think about action songs like “The Incey-Wincey Spider,”) operating hand-held musical instruments, or playing the notes on a keyboard all help to develop fine motor ability which is essential for hand and finger control – a necessary precursor to learning how to hold a pencil and write.
6. Building aural awareness
Did you know that a child has the ability to develop perfect pitch up until the age of six years old? Singing from an early age and being exposed to tuneful singing can develop aural awareness (the ability to recognise pitch and to sing in tune). Whether your child plans to go on to be the next Lorde or not, the ability to understand and appreciate music fully will be something that they will always have.
Thankfully, today we aren’t confined to classrooms of recorder-toting students. Music schools offer the chance to learn to play a variety of instruments to engage the student. If you want to give your child the best possible start in life to support their language growth, motor skill development, improve their memory, and aid them to internalise rhythm, the best thing to do is to give them the gift of music lessons. The only thing we can’t help with is the noise of their practising at home!
Katie Anstiss (B.Mus, Grad.Dip.Music NZSM) specialises in preschool music classes and group piano tuition using the revolutionary Yamaha-based method of Listen|Sing|Play|Read|Write.