While waiting to order in an outdoor restaurant the group I was with could not help but notice a baby reacting to the music being played by a group of jazz musicians….the child was completely captivated and physically moving both hands and feet to the pulse of the music. Music has a powerful effect on our emotions and researchers believe musical training not only strengthens existing pathways in the brain, but also actually creates new ones. Parents know that a quiet, gentle lullaby can soothe a fussy baby…..or that loud, rock music can greatly energize young children. But music also can affect the way we think.
In recent years we’ve learned a great deal about human brain development. We are born with billions of brain cells. During the first years of life those cells form connections with other brain cells and, over time, the connections we use regularly become stronger. Some of these pathways actually affect the way we think and function. We know that music making stimulates brain activity more than any other activity and researchers believe musical training creates new pathways in the brain.
Even while still in the womb, hearing is the first sense to awaken. Scientific studies indicate that the fetus awakens to sounds around the 16th week of pregnancy and begins to react to them from the 20th or 21st week. Around 25 weeks the fetus recognizes the difference between sounds.
Parents and child care providers can help nurture children’s love of music beginning in infancy. Here are some ideas from a very creative company who produces music just for babies and young children (www.doremisounds.com):
v Play music for your baby, even while they are in the womb. Expose your baby to many different musical selections of various styles. But keep the volume moderate…loud music can damage a baby’s hearing.
v Sing to your baby. It doesn’t matter how well you sing! Hearing your voice helps your baby begin to learn language. Babies love the patterns and rhythms of songs. Even very young babies can recognize specific melodies once they’ve heard them.
v Sing with your child. As children grow, they enjoy singing with you. And setting words to music actually helps the brain learn them more quickly and retain them longer. That’s why we remember the lyrics of songs we sang as children, even if we have not heard them in years.
v Start music lessons early. If you want your child to learn an instrument, you don’t need to wait until elementary school to begin lessons. Young children’s brains are equipped to learn music and most four and five year olds enjoy music making and can learn the basics of some instruments…particularly string instruments and piano.
v Encourage your child’s school to teach music to every child every day. Decades of research strongly indicates that music study significantly enhances all areas of learning.