Can Music Make Your Child Smarter?
by Bonnie Ward Simon
by Bonnie Ward Simon
Close your eyes and listen. How many sounds can you hear? The air-conditioner? The refrigerator? The lid of the cookie jar? The puppy chewing on the rung of a chair? The garage door opening? It is rather remarkable how many more sounds we hear when we remove the visual image and concentrate on the listening. But these are simple sounds. Think about how much harder the brain has to work when it is listening to the complex, patterned sounds that we call music. To identify a piece of music, pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and tempo, all have to be ordered in a very specific way for these sounds to be identified as a particular piece of music. A single note out of sequence can make a tune unrecognizable or turn it into a different melody. While people have understood for centuries that music was capable of eliciting emotional responses, like good food and wine or a beautiful painting, in the last decade neuroscience has discovered that music actually promotes brainpower. Offering children the opportunity to listen to classical music, we now know, is actually exercising or tuning up their brains. Believe it or not, music actually seems to improve the brain’s hardware!
The benefits of listening to music, after the last ten years of neurological study, are undeniable. The results of the ground-breaking 'Mozart effect' studies in the early 1990’s confirmed what many music teachers had long known: excellence in music was often linked to excellence in academics. In many ways, these experiments were the beginning of a field linking music and neurology. As parents and educators, there can be no doubt that listening to symphonic music, especially highly structured classical music, is good for brain development. When research has shown that listening to Mozart can be more helpful than listening to other genres of music, and that taking piano lessons can improve performance on the spatial-temporal reasoning tests when it did not for the children who had taken computer skills classes for the same amount time.
Perhaps it is time for all parents and teachers to turn off the television, videos, and computers, take out the instruments and turn on the music!
Neurologists now maintain that music actually can affect how young children may not only develop enhanced spatial reasoning at an early age but may also affect their ability to excel in such fields as higher mathematics and engineering as they get older. Music, it appears, makes the brain fire in highly sophisticated ways, and the relationship between brain development and music have generated so much interest in the past decade that its study has become a specialty in neurobiology and has even led to the establishment of the MIND (Music Intelligence Neural Development) Institute at the University of California in Irvine. While, empirically, people have known that music had benefits – from the great American band movement (1850-1920) that maintained that playing in a band was good for both mind and body, and even democracy, to current music education programs – neurologists are providing explanations and proof of its importance in brain development.
Here is my short list of ways to put music into your child's life:
- Sing to your child (your singing ability does NOT matter.)
- Listen to music while playing.
- Put a CD player in the child’s room and the kitchen.
- Keep DVD and video game players out of the car.
- Watch videos with great music, such as The Nutcracker ballet and the French film The Red Balloon.
- Listen to a wide range of music and be sure that it's music that you also enjoy (Maestro Classics Stories in Music™ series, and Classical Kids series as well as Raffi and Tom Chapin.)
- Take your child to family concerts twice a year at the local arts center.
- Keep your child's favorite CDs in the car.
- Create MP3 playlists for car rides.
- Ask yourself each day if your child has sung, played, or listened to some music; if not, sing a lullaby or play a CD softly as you say good night.
Click here for more suggestions on how to bring music into your child's life.
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