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Supporting brain development: How to make the most of musical experiences

Children’s music is most often designed to provide an entertaining means of expanding basic vocabulary while teaching little ones about their culture, other cultures, good behaviour, facts, and skills.

4 mins to read Jul 4, 2022

The impact that music has on young children is far-reaching.  

Children’s music is most often designed to provide an entertaining means of expanding basic vocabulary while teaching little ones about their culture, other cultures, good behaviour, facts, and skills. 

But there is much more to musical experiences than what meets the eye. 

For starters, music also creates a sense of belonging and developmental experts say children become more social and open to building new friendships when they are sharing a musical experience in a group setting.1 

What’s more, listening and moving to certain types of music relieves feelings of anxiety. Musical experiences typically counteract stress to help create a supporting environment in which children feel more accepted, at ease and ready to learn.

Singing and dancing together as a family is also an effective way of creating special memories and deepening the relationships within this circle. 

The period from birth to the age of six is the most important for building a musical frame of reference.

Researchers say the early years are crucial for constructing a mental organisation system for music and repeated exposure to good quality music makes it possible for very young children to develop a musical frame of reference that enables them to develop an ear for musical tonality .1

This is possible since even the youngest toddlers pay attention and react positively to the tones of music. They instinctively differentiate between changes in mood, pace, rhythmic structures and the unique ways in which melodies and harmonies support one another in different genres of music.

Interestingly enough, when we as humans actively listen to music by dancing to it or learning to play an instrument, these musical experiences promote brain synergy. Why? Because these experiences activate an exceptionally wide variety of brain regions at once. As a result, dancers’ and musicians’ brains learn over time to seamlessly transmit information between many brain regions. In other words, their brains are better connected.

Six tips for making the most of early musical experiences. 

1.    Repeat favourite songs and regularly listen to a selection of recordings.
The key here is repetition, which encourages memorization and fosters feelings of competence and familiarity. 
* Children also become more aware of the speech sounds that can be heard within words when they are repeatedly exposed to rhyme words in songs and children’s books.
2.    Add gestures, body movements and facial expressions.
The goal is to have fun, amplify the meaning of words, emphasize emotional contrasts, and make children more aware of differences in mood and energy levels.
*We as human beings universally perceive emotional meaning in music, and it is a known fact that encouraging children to actively listen to various types of music is a sure way of introducing them to a wide variety of emotional experiences.2
3.    Encourage your child to imitate simple dance steps.
This is an excellent way of developing children’s self-confidence while boosting their working memory because they practise keeping information in mind whenever they try to remember even the simplest steps.
*Start by simply swaying from side-to-side while sitting cross-legged on the floor with your child on your lap. The two of you can also practise marching to the beat of a song. 
4.    Introduce shakers or create your own home-made rattles at home.
Learning to move in time to music is a crucial developmental skill that calls on temporal awareness, which means that the brain needs to learn through repeated exposure to recognise and reproduce rhythmic patterns. This is particularly important in preparation for learning to read and write. 
5.    Playfully encourage your child to imitate simple rhythmic sequences.
Without distractions or a television playing in the background, play a simple game where you clap once, twice or three times and ask your child to imitate you. Then introduce clapping three times, either quickly or slowly. Finally, up the ante by asking your child to imitate a one-two-(wait)-three and one-(wait)-two-three rhythm.
6.    Ask your child to listen closely and reproduce a particular musical tone.
Start off by teaching them to say whether you’re singing high or low, slow or fast, and whether you’re going up or coming down as you sing or play a musical scale (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-doh).
When your child can identify these differences without any difficulty, introduce a game where you sing a note and ask them to imitate you by singing the same note.

*Combinations of notes can be introduced later. This involves singing two notes in succession and asking your child to copy the two-note sequence. Finally, you can sing a note and point upwards or downwards to indicate whether they should sing a note that is higher or lower than your own.  

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To support you as you help build your child’s musical frame of reference, we’re providing you with a printable card game that is aimed at introducing him or her to 10 of the most common musical instruments.

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1.    Hallam, S. (2010). The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people. International Journal of Music Education. Vol. 38 (3). p. 269-289.
2.    Juslin, Patrick. N. (2013) What does music express? Basic emotions and beyond. Frontiers in Psychology. Uppsala University. Uppsala, Sweden.