How Music Changes Your Child’s Brain for the Better

How Music Changes Your Child's Brain for the Better

Many people have heard of the hotly contested ‘Mozart Effect’. The idea goes that simply exposing children to classical music can transform them into geniuses by the sheer virtue of how clever the music is.

The truth is a little more complicated, but there is some good news. Endless amounts of research in recent years have adding to the already extensive evidence that music can have a profound effect on your child’s brain.

The Positive Effects of Music.

  1. Language skills and perception improve.

    In 2012 the University of Southern California began a five-year longitudinal study which investigated how music impacted the brain development of children.

    What they found was that the areas of the brain which govern several important cognitive and social abilities, namely language and speech processing, matured faster when children were enrolled in music classes after school compared to children involved in non-musical or no after school classes.

    In this particular study, the children engaged in seven hours a week of violin practice, both solo and group practice.

    Two years into the study, monitoring with MRI, ECG and behavioural tests demonstrated that these areas of the brain had ‘matured’ quicker for these children compared to the control group and the group who played soccer as an after school activity.

    Alongside more obvious developments such as increased ability to differentiate between tonal shifts, general sound processing ability, reading, language and speech perception showed improvements.

  2. Improved math.

    Children with a solid grasp of mathematics are setting themselves up well in the future. Better math skills at an early age are found to correlate with improved academic achievement, even if they do not study a math-focused subject.

    Studying music and learning to play an instrument have been found to lead to improved performance in math tests in certain areas with overlapping skills.

  3. Better memory and attention.

    A comparative study by Northumbria University found that music can improve performance in tasks which require high levels of mental alertness. In particular, they found that of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the first movement of Spring showed the biggest increase in performance.

    Musical training has also been linked to structural differences in areas of the brain related to memory, and that there are significant differences in long-term memory compared to those without musical training.

  4. Improved self-esteem.

    Children who are highly engaged with music training are shown to have better self-perception. This may be due to the bonding experience of adults teaching children music and the effect of playing as part of a group with other children.

    Children who have received musical training are also shown to have more confidence when learning other new skills and have improved self-esteem.

What we’re seeing is that simply listening to music isn’t enough to change your child’s brain. Active participation and engagement is necessary to experience the biggest benefits. In a sense, this isn’t a surprise. Learning to competently play any musical activity is a complicated process involving dozens of skills and the ability to understand and apply theoretical information, patterns, fine motor control and creativity. All of this adds up to an incredible amount of learning and encouraging the kind of dedication and curiosity that leads to musical talent will also have an impact in other areas of life.


About the Author: Zac Green

Zac Green is chief editor of popular music blog ZingInstruments.com. He believes that music isn’t just a thing you do – it’s a mindset, an attitude, a way of life.

2 Comments

J Valenzuela

In 2009, our son and his girlfriend had a sweet baby boy. From the moment he came to live with us we wxposed him to classical music on the music channel. I am a true believer of music therapy. This little baby is now 8 and he has excelled in all his academics!! From birth to 5 he listened to classicalmusic.

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Today was an ending and a beginning. My darling girl finished year 12. The final year at school is tough enough, but this year was seismic. Our teens have moved through this year with the most outstanding courage and grace and strength, and now it is time for them to rest and play. My gosh they deserve it. 

It is true that this is a time of celebration, but it can also be an intense time of self-reflection for our teens. (I can remember the same feelings when my gorgeous boy finished so many years ago!) My daughter has described it as, ‘I feel as though I’ve outgrown myself but my new self isn’t ready yet.’ This just makes so much sense. 

There is a beautifully fertile void that is waiting for whatever comes next for each of them, but that void is still a void. At different times it might feel exciting, overwhelming, or brutal in its emptiness.

We also have to remember that this is a time of letting go, and there might be grief that comes with that. Before they can grab on to their next big adventure, they have to let go of the guard rails. This means gently adjusting their hold on the world they have known for the last 12+ years, with its places and routines and people that have felt like home on so many days. There will be redirects and shiftings, and through it all the things that need to stay will stay, and the things that need to adjust will adjust. 

To my darling girl, your loved incredible friends, and the teens who make our world what it is - you are the beautiful  thinkers, the big feelers, the creators, the change makers, and the ones who will craft and grow a better world. However you might feel now, the lights are waiting to shine for you and because of you. The world beyond school is opening its arms to you. That opening might happen quickly, or gently, or smoothly or chaotically, but it will happen. This world needs every one of you - your voices, your spirits, your fire, your softness, your strength and your power. You are world-ready, and we are so glad you are here xxx
When our kids or teens are in high emotion, their words might sound anxious, angry, inconsolable, jealous, defiant. As messy as the words might be, they have a good reason for being there. Big feelings surge as a way to influence the environment to meet a need. Of course, sometimes the fallout from this can be nuclear.
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Wherever there is a big emotion, there will always be an important need behind it - safety, comfort, attention, food, rest, connection. The need will always be valid, even if the way they’re going about meeting it is a little rough. As with so many difficult parenting moments, there will be gold in the middle of the mess if we know where to look. 
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There will be times for shaping the behaviour into a healthier response, but in the middle of a big feeling is not one of those times. Big feelings are NOT a sign of dysfunction, bad kids or bad parenting. They are a part of being human, and they bring rich opportunities for wisdom, learning and growth. .
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Parenting isn’t about stopping the emotional storms, but about moving through the storm and reaching the other side in a way that preserves the opportunity for our kids and teens to learn and grow from the experience - and they will always learn best from experience. 
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To calm a big feeling, name what you see, ‘I can see you’re disappointed. I know how much you wanted that’, or, ‘I can see this feels big for you,’ or, ‘You’re angry at me about .. aren’t you. I understand that. I would be mad too if I had to […],’ or ‘It sounds like today has been a really hard day.’ 
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When we connect with the emotion, we help soothe the nervous system. The emotion has done its job, found support, and can start to ease. 
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When they ‘let go’ they’re letting us in on their deepest and most honest emotional selves. We don’t need to change that. What we need to do is meet them where they and gently guide them from there. When they feel seen and understood, their trust in us and their connection to us will deepen, opening the way for our influence.
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When they are at that line, deciding whether to retreat to safety or move forward into brave, there will be a part of them that will know they have what it takes to be brave. It might be pale, or quiet, or a little tumbled by the noise from anxiety, but it will be there. And it will be magical. Our job as their flight crew is to clear the way for this magical part of them to rise. ‘I can see this feels scary for you - and I know you can do this.’ 
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 #mindfulparenting #neuronurtured #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #braindevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #childdevelopment #parentingtip #adolescence #positiveparentingtips #anxietyawareness #anxietyinchildren #childanxiety #parentingadvice #anxiety #parentingtips #motherhoodcommunity #anxietysupport #mentalhealth #heyawesome #heysigmund #heywarrior
When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️

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