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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Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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