From quite an early stage in their life, children start to identify rhythms and even start to groove to the beats of music. After all, music is said to touch a person’s soul! Apart from acting as a mood lifter for both children and adults, it also provides cognitive benefits that support a child’s early development. Music provides innumerable sensory benefits to children and the musical rhythms also create more pathways between the cells in their brains, allowing them to build coordination, literacy and numeracy.

To gain a deeper insight into how musical experience proves beneficial for a child, we got in touch with Dr Reeta Sonawat of Ampersand Group, who uses her decades of experience and expertise to steer strategies that improve children’s education delivery practices pan-India, especially in public schools and state-run ECE centres. 

1. How do musical experiences in childhood accelerate brain development, especially in areas of language acquisition & reading skills?

Dr Howard Gardner, the famous educationist and a professor at Harvard University, asserts that certain parts of the brain play an important role in the perception and production of music. Music is therapeutic as it has a calming effect on the brain and helps in de-stressing and relaxation.

Providing the right kind of musical experience to children in their childhood enhances their learning abilities. Some children naturally possess music-linguistic intelligence. For such children, it’s easier to learn a language through music. Once they comprehend the language, it enhances their reading skills as well.

2. Is it true that learning to play a musical instrument can help in Mathematical learning?

While music is all about creating an effect with sound patterns, Math readiness entails comprehending learning patterns. Research shows that popular pieces of music also follow Mathematical structures. These patterns appeal to our senses for Mathematical rhythm and patterns.

3. Can dance help children develop motor skills & other signs of self-expression?

Dance, too, has a therapeutic value that’s intrinsic to it. According to Dr Howard Gardner, those endowed with kinaesthetic intelligence, which involves physical coordination and dexterity using fine and gross motor skills, learn dancing postures easily. Dancing helps in building control and balance of the body.

4. Do infants recognise the melody of a song long before they understand its words?

There are many pieces of research to indicate that a baby develops his/her receptive language skills right from the mother’s womb. They begin to discern between voices, rhythms, and melodies even before they’re born. During the nine months spent in the mother’s womb, the baby gets accustomed to the melody of the mother’s voice and the rhythm of the heartbeat. Hence, even after birth, the voice of the mother and the melody of the lullaby she sings while holding the baby close to her heart has a calming effect on the baby.

5. What are some musical learning activities for infants & toddlers?

All activities that are a favourite with younger children should include music and movement in them. Music, which includes concept-based songs, should be made integral to all preschool activities. Early learning centres and preschools need to ensure that music-based activities are spread out all through the day, right from the time children start their day at the school, before their snack break, and at the end of the day before they leave for home.

6. How can music lead to development in teenagers?

Music plays a very important role in the development of teenagers. It can be their developmental resource. It is believed that music can fulfil the psychological, social, and cultural needs of contemporary teenagers. Music stimulates seven areas of development in them—the sense of aesthetics, identity, socialization; emotion regulation, coping ability, personality & motivation, gender roles, and positivity.

7. Can you tell us a bit about music therapy?

Music enhances quality of life. Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions. It involves relationships between a qualified therapist and a child, between one child and another, between child and family, and between music and the music enthusiasts. Music therapists draw from an extensive array of strategies and techniques, the most common among these are singing, toning, listening, and imaginary, playing instruments, improvisation, and lyric writing.

8. How can music therapy help children on the Autism spectrum?

Music is universal and can form connections with all differently-abled children and adults, even those in the Autism spectrum. It has the natural ability to generate an emotional response in an autistic child. It has a calming and relaxing effect on the body and mind. Researches have shown that music is processed by both halves of the brain and this stimulation, in turn, helps in the development of language and speech functions. Children and adults with autism have been found to respond very positively to music and many of them display high levels of musical skills.

9. Can you give us a guide on shared parent-child music experience activities that can benefit both the parties?

Music-based activities encourage verbal as well as nonverbal communication and promote social interaction and bonding among parents and children. It’s a valuable outlet for self-expression and creativity and hence, parents should provide musical exposure to children right from their birth.

Music can be successfully used in pain management as well by providing a distraction from the painful stimulus as well as for relaxation and stress alleviation.

10. Is there any downside to the music experience for children?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that exposure to loud sounds and high-decibel music for a long period of time can cause serious hearing impairment and learning disorders among children and young adults. In young children, noise-induced hearing loss hinders their language acquisition and results in learning disabilities, anxiety, and attention-seeking behaviour. Hence, children should be sensitised towards the harmful effects of loud music and noise right from an early age.