Science shows that people of all ages can experience significant benefits from the study of and exposure to music. This is especially true in the case of children, whose development can be positively influenced by the presence of music in their lives throughout each of the following stages of childhood.
Exposing a child to music in his or her infancy is an excellent way to lay the groundwork for musical development and appreciation later in life. Babies develop the ability to hear before they are even born, and the sense fully matures by the time they are one month old. This makes it easy for babies to respond to music from a very early age.
The infant brain has a predisposition toward learning music in a way similar to its inclination toward learning language. Singing to babies or rocking them gently to soft songs can nurture strong musical neural pathways that lead them to engage enthusiastically with songs as they grow. A baby who is familiar with music may also begin to vocally experiment with melodies the way that many babies experiment with speech—through babbling and producing their own sounds. Studies have shown that parents who rhythmically rock babies in time to music may help their children develop stronger cognitive skills, as the ability to recognize and predict rhythmic patterns in music can also affect a baby’s ability to recognize patterns and rhythm in speech.
For toddlers, music is an excellent way to help them learn and boost memory. Songs can help children accomplish learning feats such as remembering the alphabet, and can even be used to help them learn to master new skills, like how to tie their shoes.
Though each child is different, most experts agree it is best to wait until a child is around the age of five to begin taking formal music lessons. Though some children express interest in experimenting with instruments earlier, five-year-olds are generally better equipped to pay attention to a lesson and understand that they will not be able to immediately play music. Waiting until the child is older also reduces the risk that he or she will become bored and frustrated, and therefore turned off to musicianship altogether.
As children reach school age, those who practice music develop a wide range of valuable abilities and skills. Different studies of musicianship in children have noted that practicing an instrument may increase their capacity for creativity, improve spatial intelligence, expand mathematics skills, improve language comprehension, and strengthens various areas of the brain.
One study published by the Journal of Neuroscience indicates that young musicians develop stronger neural connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which ultimately results in these children displaying faster cognitive abilities than those of their peers. Another study conducted by Brown University showed that practicing an instrument increases the production of grey matter in the brain, leading to neural connections that fostered better skills in spelling, reading comprehension, and motor skills. Practicing an instrument in childhood may also improve a child’s ability to organize and problem-solve.
By the time a child reaches the “tween” years (between the ages of eight and 12), they may have the opportunity to participate in a school band. For many children, this age will be the first time they have the chance to practice an instrument, and the positive developmental effects continue to benefit kids at this stage of life. Like younger children, older children who practice music often do better in subjects like math and reading. In addition, making a commitment to play an instrument at this age requires ample practice, which teaches older children about the value of discipline and self-control. A child who practices regularly can apply this self-regulatory strength to other areas of academics, such as completing homework assignments.
There is also a social benefit to playing music as an older child. Playing an instrument in the school band or orchestra can help children understand the importance of patience and teamwork. Learning to work together and take turns during practice sessions can help kids at this age learn about the value of collaboration and what they can accomplish as part of a team. Participation in these groups also gives older children the opportunity to feel as though they are part of a larger community, which can be important in a phase of development when they begin to undergo emotional and social changes.
It’s common knowledge that music plays a significant role in the lives of teenagers, and a study from 2015 showed that children in this age group listen to an average of four hours of music every day. Music not only serves as an emotional outlet for teens and a way to express their personal identities, but it also has a social element as well. Music allows teenagers to bond with friends and form meaningful relationships with others in a way that is important for personal development.
Beyond listening to music, teenagers who practice an instrument continue to reap cognitive benefits that mirror those experienced by younger children. Scientific evidence confirms that practicing a musical instrument during the teenage years continues to boost brain development, leading to positive effects like stronger literacy skills. Positive effects outside of the brain include the fact that students who belong to high school band or orchestra groups are less likely to develop lifelong problems with alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Teens who are musicians have also been noted to be less likely to display disciplinary problems and have higher grade point averages than their peers who did not play an instrument.