Though considered an “extra” by some, music is integral to almost every culture and ingrained in the human experience. 

In fact, music occupies more areas of the brain than language does! Our brains are literally wired for music(1).

It brings people together, from the first dance at a wedding to holiday carols to international touring concerts. 

It elicits emotions - think anxiety during a scary movie or excitement at a sports game. It also regulates us. What spa or gentle yoga class would be complete without soothing music in the background? 

The purpose of participating in music can be a hobby or a career, a mood booster or relaxant, a creative outlet, and so much more. 

Its uses are not limited to adults either. Interaction with music extends as far back as our infancy - even in the womb! Musical experiences in childhood can actually accelerate brain development, especially in language and reading skills(2).

Unsurprisingly, this gives children an advantage in academic performance. But music can provide children of all ages a wealth of benefits that transcend academics. 

Music occupies more areas of the brain than language does! Our brains are literally wired for music.

Language Development

Children who grow up listening to music develop strong auditory and music-related neural connections that strengthen their language skills. This is critical for learning both our native language as well as additional ones.

As young children, we learn to recognize the rhythm and tone (the music!) of our native language long before we can say the words. 

Most people can remember several songs they learned as children. This is because music helps us retain words and ideas much more effectively. 

Rhythm and repetitive patterns are powerful tools for helping us (and young children) memorize words. Eventually, with the help of repetition, the brain begins to understand the sounds and organize them into language.

If your child is bilingual (or you want them to be), music can speed up their language learning process. Singing songs in a different language can aid children in producing the sounds that are used in that language, even when those sounds are unfamiliar at first. Processing and recreating the words and accents in a melodic, rhythmic tone keeps the brain in an active state of remembering the language better(3).

Music can also improve listening comprehension. Infants process simple melodies and use them to understand basic words or phrases. For example, the alphabet song uses the same widely recognizable tune as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, yet very young children can both memorize letters in the alphabet and conceptualize stars twinkling in the sky using this melody.

Listening and Comprehension

Body Awareness and Coordination

Once toddlers master walking and standing on their feet, you’ll probably catch them swaying or bouncing when they hear music. Bouncing or swaying rhythmically to a piece of music (especially with an adult’s help) is critical for developing an internal sense of rhythm as well as learning to control one’s body with grace and ease.

Try bouncing to a song like Bounce Along. Put your child on your lap and bounce your legs rhythmically. When appropriate, lift your child into the air and watch them squeal with delight.

Music also helps children develop their emerging body awareness. By including the names of body parts in songs along with actions, children learn the names, whereabouts, and functions of their body parts. They also learn to isolate and feel each one. 

Songs that help toddlers improve their body coordination include Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, Walk and Stop, and many more. 

Melody and rhythm lend themselves especially well to games, such as “Ring Around the Rosey” or “Musical Chairs”. These activities require them to recognize the form of the music and which actions reflect each section of the song. 

Music games also require children to collaborate and interact with other children, which can heighten their socio-emotional awareness and help children recognize, direct, and convey their emotions in a healthy manner(4).

Unsurprisingly, a study in Finland found that toddlers were more likely to be happy and content, and their roles were more stable and adaptive when they were in music groups compared to their non-music control group counterparts(5).

Emotion Regulation

Tips for Giving the Benefits of Music to Your Child

Play music for your child

Expose your child to many different musical styles, including genres outside of nursery rhymes and "children's music." Thousands of curated playlists exist on Youtube and streaming platforms. Try this classical playlist or this mix of old and new favorites. 

Sing to and with your child

It doesn’t matter if you think you can't carry a tune! Hearing your voice sing helps your child learn language and models experimentation with language. You can sing during daily activities (like this hand washing song while washing hands) or to calm down before a nap (try one of our favorite lullabies, "Bajuski Baju"). As your child gets older, they will enjoy singing along with you.

Move with your child to music in different ways

Turn on a piece of music and MOVE however your body feels like moving. Experiment with moving faster or slower, in a bouncy way and in a flowy way, and with natural "stops" or pauses depending on what the music suggests to you. Moving to a song develops so many motor skills and cognitive processes within your child!

Play musical games with your child

Play musical games that call for specific actions such as "Ring Around the Rosey." Not only will your child learn motor skills and impulse control by practicing the actions, but they will also learn to distinguish the sections of songs and increase listening comprehension - all while having FUN!

Ask your child about the music

Talk to your child about different elements of the music that stand out to you. What kind of instruments do you hear? Is it fast, slow, loud, soft? If it was playing in the background of a movie, what would be happening in the scene? When your child is old enough, start to ask them these questions and validate their answers.

Join an early childhood music class

Although you can do so much on your own at home, an early childhood music specialist with experience teaching well-researched curriculum can amplify the benefits of music for your child. Plus, participating with peers helps children develop social skills like collaboration and turn-taking, which will serve them in school and in life. Try a Musikgarten early childhood class at Cultivate Music Studio to give your child a musical head start today! 

(1) Farrel, F. (2014) The blind assessor: Are we constraining or enriching diversity of music development and learning? 
(2) Emily Gersema (2016) Children’s brains develop faster with music training
(3) Music and your baby, S. Jhoanna Robledo, September 2011
(4) Musacchia G and Khalil A (2020) Music and Learning: Does Music Make You Smarter?. Front. Young Minds. 8:81. doi: 10.3389/frym.2020.00081
(5) Inkeri Ruokonen, Mari Tervaniemi & Jyrki Reunamo (2021) The significance of music in early childhood education and care of toddlers in Finland: an extensive observational study, Music Education Research, DOI: 10.1080/14613808.2021.1965564

About the Author

Selena Pistoresi has been teaching piano since 2008. She specializes in teaching neurodivergent students and students with disabilities. She is a certified RPM practitioner and is working on her Masters in Music Education with an autism concentration at Boston Conservatory/Berklee College of Music.

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