Music has long been cherished for its ability to communicate, inspire, move, and celebrate. And as of 1993 with the introduction of the Mozart Effect, a claim stating that by simply listening to Mozart for ten minutes, one could increase brain function, it has also been a focus of our attention in terms of its correlation with cognitive development. Even though studies have since debunked the theory, claiming that the effects are transitory, the drive to understand music’s actual effects on cognitive development persists. Today, we know that music can, in fact, be beneficial to our youth, but in order to reap the best rewards, children need to be active participants in their musical experiences, rather than just passive observers.

Areas of cognitive development which are believed to improve as a result of musical instruction

Spatial Reasoning: When music accompanies education, children can benefit in any number of developmental areas. The most prominent advantage, however, seems to be in the development of spatial skills. Children with strong spatial abilities are better able to visualize problems and focus on details, so incorporating music education into their normal, daily routine will improve their ability to create details in their “mind’s eye”.

Math: Another area proven to improve when music education is used is a child’s ability to use reason for mathematics. This is especially true when rhythm is a primary focus. This is believed to be due to the fact that rhythm is predictable, much like the patterns used in math. Even when rhythm varies in complex tunes, it must always right itself by the end, much like even the most complex math problems.

Reading and Verbal skills: Thirdly is the area of reading. While studies confirm that music instruction has a positive impact on verbal skills such as sentence structure and comprehension, actual reading levels do not increase enough to warrant a claim that music does, in fact, improve a child’s reading ability. Thus, a musically-involved lesson plan does not necessarily equal better reading capabilities, but does improve a child’s ability to communicate effectively.

Secondary skill sets which tend to increase with music education

Music education does not just benefit a child’s cognitive development. Other skills can be gained from musical instruction, as well, including concentration, coordination, patience, and self-confidence. Each of these skill sets are an important part of integrating children into society and should therefore be factored into the decision of whether or not to add music instruction to your child’s curriculum.

Concentration: Children who have a hard time focusing on a single task can benefit from music instruction because it requires concentration to excel.

Coordination: The very creation of music requires a good deal of coordination and fine motor movement. Hence, children who write at levels lower than their peers can gain from regular music lessons.

Patience: Children often get frustrated when things don’t go as planned. Educating children in music arts will also teach them the ever-valuable lesson that things improve with practice and patience.

Self-Confidence: Many young people today show signs of low self-esteem, which can result in any number of problems both now and later in life. However, children who learn music young are set-up for success largely due to the self-induced pride which results from music education.

Relaxation: People of all ages can benefit from positive coping strategies, including listening to and creating music. In fact, music has been shown to be a great outlet for children, especially those with either social or mental disadvantages, by allowing them to remove their focus from stressors and aim it instead at the calming sounds of their favorite tunes.

A guide to music instruction by age

Of course, every child develops at different stages, and some information is too advanced for certain ages.Fortunately, many music lessons fall into age-appropriate categories, meaning that the type of music instruction can easily be outlined in terms of age. Use this basic guideline as a reference for when to use what types of music education for your children.

Birth to age 3: This is the age in which children first begin taking an interest in music. It is a good time to use music in games that require body movement, such as clapping, jumping, and spinning.

Ages 4 and 5: Children this age like to create music using various home-made instruments. They are more aware of lyrics and the meaning behind them, and are able to sit for short periods of time to listen and appreciate individual songs. It is recommended that music accompany other forms of education during this time, and music appreciation should be part of their curriculum.

Ages 6 through 10: It is now easier for children to see the structure in music. This is a great age to begin formal music instruction. Studies show that doing so can now have positive, life-long effects.

Music is a universal language, understood by people of all ages and ethnicities. Its impact has been so profound, in fact, that its effect on human development has been a hot topic of conversation. With the introduction of the Mozart Effect, studies surrounding music and the brain have been ample, either proving or disproving old assumptions. But one thing can be safely stated in regards to music’s impact on our children: music as an interactive experience can and does positively impact certain developmental areas. Furthermore, utilizing music as a form of therapy can help children concentrate and cope with stressors now and in the future. If parents wish to give their children a boost in their development, music appreciation and instruction can be a powerful tool, especially when the parents are active participants, as well.