Photo used under Creative Commons from Marina K Caprara
While the full impact of music on the human brain is not fully understood, recent research indicates that children who study music experience substantial benefits in mental, cognitive, social, and academic capacity, as compared with students who do not receive musical instruction. If you have children who want to become involved in extracurricular activities, here are five important reasons why you should encourage them to study music and play an instrument.
1. Playing an instrument may reduce stress levels
Although stress is often considered to be an adult’s domain, research suggests that children today are experiencing more stress at an earlier age. Common sources of stress include a high degree of pressure to perform well academically, a need to adapt to new social situations among peers, and overly packed schedules that do not allow children time to play, express creativity, or relax. Overly stressed children can experience immediate physical symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, and an upset stomach, along with more long-lasting effects such as changes in brain development that impact reasoning, emotional control, and problem-solving abilities.
For some children, playing an instrument can lead to reduced stress levels. Studies show that playing music lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and the level of cortisol in the brains of musicians. Researchers note that playing an instrument contributes to stress relief only if it is played for recreational purposes, rather than with an intense focus on the mastery of a new piece. To achieve optimal relaxation, students should focus on playing by ear for fun and do so for at least an hour each week.
2. Exposure to a variety of music can broaden a child’s cultural understanding
Teaching children about the value of diversity among people from different countries and cultural backgrounds can enable them to positively interact with others as they explore the world. Learning about the values and cultures of those who are different from oneself also helps children to connect and develop social behaviors rooted in feelings of curiosity rather than fear, which can broaden a child’s mind and lead to a well-rounded view of the world and a healthy respect for others.
Studying music is a fun and efficient way to teach children about diversity because it is a universal language. Exposure to music from other cultures teaches children that no matter how different people seem to be from one another, they can both create and celebrate with their own types of music. While songs may differ or be characterized by different languages, studying music from other cultures helps children to understand that we all have the ability to listen to, appreciate, and dance to music in any form.
3. Learning to play an instrument can build confidence
Self-confidence is loosely defined as the knowledge of one’s true value, a feeling which generates positivity, determination, and resilience in the face of life’s challenges. Building confidence in children often leads to better social experiences, an enhanced ability to handle peer pressure, and a more controlled approach to dealing with positive and negative emotions.
Encouraging the study of music is an enjoyable and beneficial way for parents to help children develop a healthy degree of self-confidence. A young musician who learns to play an instrument may start out slowly, but recognizing incremental progress can foster personal satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment that helps children to develop a belief in their abilities. The act of first setting and then achieving musical goals, such as mastering a song, allows young musicians to recognize that hard work and discipline lead to improved performance, even for those who are inexperienced or unsure of themselves.
4. Musicianship helps young students develop socially
Child development and psychology professionals are quick to point out the importance of friendship in a child’s life. Building camaraderie and positive interaction with peers teach valuable life skills that are important into adulthood, such as fairness, compromise, cooperation, sharing, and conflict management. A child who possesses these skills may display higher levels of social competence and ultimately receive peer support, which plays an important role in the healthy development of children and adolescents.
Moreover, children who play with music as part of a group have many opportunities to develop socially and to form lasting friendships. Playing an instrument or singing in an ensemble teaches young students how to work together as a unit in order to create music and to develop valuable personal skills such as patience, cooperation, and leadership. Playing an instrument as part of a group also offers children with at least one shared interest. Research suggests that one of the strongest bonds between friends is shared interests. Thus, a child who plays an instrument in an ensemble will be more likely to find likeminded friends.
5. Playing an instrument sets children up for a brighter future
Overall, practicing a musical instrument yields mental, social, and cognitive benefits that set children up for success in the future. The study of music has been shown to boost academic scores in areas such as math and literacy, to improve language development, and to foster strong creative abilities. Young musicians have more refined motor skills at a younger age and learn to positively express themselves in a way that leads to better mental health.
More than anything else, children who learn to play instruments gain these wonderful benefits while having fun at the same time. Playing music is a useful skill that can inspire in children a level of passion and a joy for the arts that lasts a lifetime.
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