The Importance of Music in Early Childhood Development

“The potential possibilities of any child are the most intriguing and stimulating in all creation,” once said Ray L. Wilbur, the third president of Stanford University. As parents, we yearn to give our children the best foundation. We want them to be happy, talented, intelligent, and successful. Recent advances in neuroscience have allowed a window into the many ways music molds the developing brain, hard-wiring it for all these ambitions.

What Does Research Say About The Importance of Music in Early Childhood?

There is an exhaustive body of research selling music as a pathway to intelligence, ability, and overall happiness. In his 1983 theory of “multiple intelligences,” psychologist Howard Gardner posited that music intelligence is as important as logical and emotional intelligence based on the way that music strengthens the mind-body connection. For instance, children develop better motor skills when movement is combined with music. Neuroscientists have observed noticeable differences in the spatial awareness and language processing centers of the brain in young musicians.

Scientists have called music “a breakthrough” for children ages two to nine. After 15 months of weekly musical instruction, sound discrimination abilities, fine motor skills, and spatial intelligence improve. By age six, children taking music lessons score at least three IQ points higher than their peers. Elementary school children in the best music education programs score about 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math on standardized tests. The social advantages are not to be overlooked. Though it can be difficult to quantify, music will make your child more interesting and happier. As Dr. Eric Rasmussen of Johns Hopkins University explains: “It gives you a better understanding of yourself… how you think and express yourself are enhanced.”

When Should I Focus on Music Development for My Child?

Researchers describe the ages of 0-6 as the “music babble” stage, where children approach music in a way that is totally different from adults. During these formative years, children do not yet understand the tonalities, meters, and rhythms of music, but they are developing a foundation for music competence.

Children move through the following stages of music knowledge:

  • Acculturation (Birth to Ages 2-4): Unstructured music education provides children with exposure to different tones, keys, harmonies, and meters. Instrumental music works best for children to absorb the different sounds of their environment. Typically, by about 18 months, you will begin to notice the benefit of guided music acculturation over children who have not had the same exposure. Children begin to babble sounds and practice choreographed movements. By the end of this stage, they will echo the tonal and rhythmic patterns they hear, though their performances can still be somewhat hit-or-miss.
  • Imitation (Ages 2-4 to Ages 3-5): Children begin to transition to more purposeful musical action and learn how to teach music to themselves. Rather than directly imitating the adults they hear, children become aware of their own patterns. Eventually, incorrect imitations move toward greater accuracy.
  • Assimilation (Ages 3-5 to Ages 4-6): At this stage, youngsters become aware of musical syntax and comprehend musical phrases. They can perform patterns with precision and coordinate tonal patterns into singing.

During these formative years, the brain is extremely active and flexible in laying down the circuitry for lifelong musical reception and expression. Beyond these early years, you can expect to see impressive gains in your child’s musical aptitude and a mastery of the chosen instrument. Opportunities to travel, perform in large music halls, participate in summer festivals, and develop an identity tied to music aptitude now open up to your child.

What Kind of Music Exposure Does My Child Need?

Northwestern University researchers debunked the so-called “Mozart” myth, which theorized that children who simply listen to classical music develop superior intelligence. Rather, scientists discovered that it’s the act of generating and manipulating sound that rewires the brain for success.

“Making music matters,” they concluded, in the same way that playing sports impacts physical fitness (not watching sports). Parents play a critical role in facilitating a love of music and all the benefits that come along with it. To cultivate a lifelong love of music, parents should follow their intuition, find music their kids love, hire good teachers, and let their child discover an instrument they truly like. Much early childhood music inspires a love of music through the language children speak: play!

The effects can be astounding. Since 2008, 93 percent of low-income children in Los Angeles taking music instruction have gone on to college, despite a dropout rate above 50 percent in their neighborhoods.

How To Help Your Child Shine

Shine offers early music development classes based on the latest research, starting with babies who are less than a year old. Music Stars is our signature music class, incorporating song, storytelling, instruments, and upbeat movements for aspiring young musicians of all ages. Sing & Shine helps ages 0-2 with a themed exploration of instruments, game play, familiar songs, and rock n’ roll with the support of a caregiver. For ages 3-5 or 6-8, we offer Stage Lights, a creative performance class that incorporates puppetry and masks in with music and movement. At age 5, your child can begin more formal Group Music Theory or Private Piano and Guitar lessons. We’re offering cool new Bass and Percussion instruction for older kids now as well. Contact us to learn more.


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