Intro Art NewsMusic, Learning, and Children: What Does the Research Say?

Music is intertwined with human society, and it has been for millennia. It is a deeply important aspect of how our brains develop and how we communicate.

Parents have long understood that providing musical education for their children – learning to sing, play an instrument, read music, and compose – allows for wonderful creative endeavors to improve their child’s thinking and learning skills.

At some stages, even just listening to music in the background can change how children perceive the world, process stimuli, manage stress, learn, and think about what they have learned. In some instances, this process can differ by age group, but some musical effects remain strong for decades.

How Different Age Groups Are Affected by Music

Many people associate music and children with the Mozart Effect, in which forcing children to listen to background classical music – specifically Mozart due to his compositions’ complexity – can improve a child’s ability to learn a task and perform it. While there are several studies among different age groups and childhood needs regarding the truth of this effect, there are also several studies suggesting that other approaches to using music to learn, besides just passive listening, can improve cognitive skills, including learning, focus, and task completion. Music is an important part of life for children, and they should receive as wide a range of music education as possible.

Music can have a great influence on children and their learning ability in several crucial stages of development, but how this occurs is complex. For example, one study suggests that experiencing music, through learning an instrument or listening to music, associates musical structure with grammar rules, making language acquisition easier. Hierarchical pitch and tempo can mimic grammar in language, which may stimulate that area of the brain.

Numerous studies since the 1990s have shown at least a correlation between structural brain changes and listening to music. Changes were found in the frontal lobe, corpus callosum, language and auditory processing areas, and parts of the brain involved in motor function. Some studies causally link listening to music with improvements in language processing, so even passive involvement in music can strengthen some parts of a child’s learning ability.

What Parents Should Do

The hyperbole around the Mozart Effect is changing, but listening to calming instrumental music – classical and many other genres – can have a great, positive impact on children in many age groups. Starting in infancy, playing complex but happy music can reduce stress and improve language acquisition. Throughout childhood, music can ease stress, improve learning, and may play a role in improved task performance, especially when fine motor skills are involved.

Learning a musical instrument, singing along with songs, and even dancing have also improved cognition and learning in children, particularly in young children. While not every child will want to learn an instrument or have talent for an instrument, parents can start young by singing along with music, including children’s songs. By showing that music has a participatory aspect, parents can improve their child’s learning and thinking through encouragement to participate.

From mood regulation to learning new languages, music has a strong impact on children’s learning, thinking, and communication.

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