It’s more than just nice to lis­ten to – learn­ing to play mu­sic helps build chil­dren’s brains

Sunday Mail - Body and Soul - - B+S PARENTING -

The an­cient Greek philoso­pher Plato said: “Mu­sic is a moral law. It gives soul to the uni­verse, wings to the mind, flight to the imag­i­na­tion, and charm and gai­ety to life and to ev­ery­thing.”

This is one of Don Spencer’s favourite quotes. For the for­mer Play School pre­sen­ter and founder of the Aus­tralian Chil­dren’s Mu­sic Foun­da­tion, this quote forms the ba­sis of the mes­sage he is try­ing to put across – that mu­sic should be an es­sen­tial part of a child’s ed­u­ca­tion.

“We know that mu­sic brings joy and so­lace, and makes us feel happy,” Spencer says. “But re­search has also dis­cov­ered mu­sic plays a pow­er­ful role in the cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­ment of chil­dren. Mu­sic in­spires creativ­ity, imag­i­na­tion and self-ex­pres­sion. It also builds self-es­teem and is good for mem­ory skills.”

The power of mu­sic

Much re­search sup­ports both Spencer and Plato. A Stan­ford Univer­sity study found that mu­si­cal train­ing im­proves the way the brain pro­cesses the spo­ken word. It showed that mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence can help the brain im­prove its abil­ity to dis­tin­guish be­tween rapidly chang­ing sounds, a key skill in un­der­stand­ing and us­ing lan­guage.

Re­search from Canada found that chil­dren aged four to six years old who had mu­sic lessons had bet­ter mem­o­ries, as well as higher lit­er­acy and maths lev­els.

An­other study, from the US, showed that chil­dren aged five to seven years who had been lag­ging be­hind in their school per­for­mance caught up with their peers in read­ing, and were ahead of them in maths, af­ter just seven months of mu­sic lessons. Re­search shows it’s not that smart kids play mu­sic, it’s that mu­sic makes kids smarter. It sup­ports Spencer’s call for mu­sic to be a stan­dard part of the school cur­ricu­lum, like English and maths.

“Mu­sic is ev­ery­where, but not at 75 per cent of pub­lic schools around Aus­tralia who don’t have a ded­i­cated mu­sic teacher,” Spencer says. “It’s sad that many chil­dren don’t have ac­cess to for­mal mu­si­cal ed­u­ca­tion, par­tic­u­larly when it [has] such an im­pact on a child’s de­vel­op­ment.” In­volv­ing our chil­dren in mu­sic doesn’t have to be ex­pen­sive. And many par­ents give their kids mu­si­cal ex­po­sure sub­lim­i­nally, be it through singing, the ra­dio or stereo.

But par­ents can take it to the next level by talk­ing about mu­sic and ex­pos­ing kids to dif­fer­ent styles.

For many older chil­dren, mu­sic is part of their cul­ture and while par­ents don’t have to like it, they can still en­gage their kids in con­ver­sa­tion about it.

Ide­ally, Spencer would like ev­ery child to learn an in­stru­ment. “[Kids can ac­cess] cheap in­stru­ments like a ukulele, recorder or har­mon­ica,” Spencer says. He says the in­ter­net has a lot of free videos which teach you how to play in­stru­ments.

“I can’t stress enough how im­por­tant mu­sic is,” he says. “It builds re­la­tion­ships, uni­fies peo­ple and, most im­por­tantly, it’s fun.”

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