Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. “A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music.
Making music involves more than the voice or fingers playing an instrument; a child learning about music has to tap into multiple skill sets, often simultaneously. For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles, says Kenneth Guilmartin, cofounder of Music Together, an early childhood music development program for infants through kindergarteners that involves parents or caregivers in the classes.
When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development, which is so important at that stage,” says Luehrisen. While children come into the world ready to decode sounds and words, music education helps enhance those natural abilities. “Growing up in a musically rich environment is often advantageous for children’s language development,” she says. But Luehrisen adds that those inborn capacities need to be “reinforced, practiced, celebrated,” which can be done at home or in a more formal music education setting.
According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. “Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds,” the group claims.
This relationship between music and language development is also socially advantageous to young children. “The development of language over time tends to enhance parts of the brain that help process music,” says Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a practicing musician. “Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.
Music can improve your child’ abilities in learning and other nonmusic tasks, but it’s important to understand that music does not make one smarter. As Pruett explains, the many intrinsic benefits to music education include being disciplined, learning a skill, being part of the music world, managing performance, being part of something you can be proud of, and even struggling with a less than perfect teacher.
It’s important not to oversell how smart music can make you,” Pruett says. “Music makes your kid interesting and happy, and smart will come later. It enriches his or her appetite for things that bring you pleasure and for the friends you meet.”
While parents may hope that enrolling their child in a music program will make her a better student, the primary reasons to provide your child with a musical education should be to help them become more musical, to appreciate all aspects of music, and to respect the process of learning an instrument or learning to sing, which is valuable on its own merit.
There is a massive benefit from being musical that we don’t understand, but it’s individual. Music is for music’s sake,” Rasmussen says. “The benefit of music education for me is about being musical. It gives you have a better understanding of yourself. The horizons are higher when you are involved in music,” he adds. “Your understanding of art and the world, and how you can think and express yourself, are enhanced.