Fact: Music is good for children. To any non-musical adult who doesn’t quite grasp the extent of its influence on kids, I’d just like to sing three words: ‘Let it go!’Between Saturday morning sports, friends’ birthday parties and family outings, your school-age child’s schedule is pre-loaded with fun activities. If you’re still undecided about adding music lessons to the list, take note of the benefits that come with signing your little one up for violin or piano tuition. Chances are he or she won’t be the next Mozart, but they may have an easier time harnessing life skills for the future. If you put a bunch of toddlers in a music room full of instruments, they will bang, toot and shake everything in reach. It’s an inherent response to a universal language and its benefits help them to learn about cooperation, sharing, compromise, creativity and concentration. So here are a few reasons why your child should put down the games console and pick up a musical instrument instead.
Music Boosts Brain PowerHelping with times tables, revision, maths homework and spelling is the bane of most parents’ lives. But help is at hand. More and more studies show a correlation between higher academic achievement with children who are exposed to music. It stimulates the parts of the brain that relate to reading, maths and emotional development. There’s mounting evidence that musical training not only gives young developing brains a cognitive boost, but those neural enhancements extend across the lifespan into old age when the brain needs it most to counteract cognitive decline. The proof is there if you look at the musical Brians with brains – physicists Brian May (Queen) and Brian Cox (D:Ream).
Music improves memoryMost of us have no trouble singing along to the lyrics in our heads of songs we grew up with decades ago. Invariably, this is never a track on our mental playlist – something like Chris de Burgh’s Lady in Red – earworming its way into our consciousness. We can even connect specific events to particular songs – remember that song at the school disco when…? Proof, if we needed it, that music is connected to memory. Research shows that participation in music at an early age can help improve a child’s learning ability and memory by stimulating different patterns of brain development. Kids’ uncluttered minds already possess an amazing ability to remember places, events, faces, names. Music simply enhances this ability, shaming any non-musical adult who rushes into a room, stops, stares and asks ‘Why did I just come in here?’
Music helps kids sociallyMany non-musical adults look back over their lives and wish they’d had the chance to learn a musical instrument – not always for the music, but for the social elevation that playing brings. We look on with envy at people who can play and captivate others with their talent. Remember that guy at the party who stood up and blasted the sax solo from Dark Side of the Moon’s, Money? Or the scruffy student at a Play Me upright piano on the station concourse providing rush-hour commuters with a few bars from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 3? Uplifting, wonderful (and ever so slightly jealousy-inducing). Even for shy children, picking up an instrument can help boost social interaction and confidence. Kids who become involved in a musical group or ensemble learn important life skills, such as relating to others, working as a team. And they love belonging to something positive and making sound. Performing in front of others can be empowering and immensely satisfying (for parents too). Children can also appreciate the rewards that come from working together, and the development of leadership skills and discipline. Music is cool. A child who can play an instrument or sing well is respected by his or her peer group and he/she can carry this talent and social admiration with them throughout their lives. But all is not lost for unmusical adults. We can live vicariously through our children and even learn to play the ukulele.
The list is endlessThere are downsides to your child learning music – but these affect you, not your child. Paying for lessons might be expensive and instruments can cost a small fortune, but it is possible to buy cheaper second hand instruments, or lease them. Sure, making your child practices and dealing with the tantrums associated with that discipline, the repetition and duff notes when you’re trying to complete your tax return can be a challenge. But in the long run, it’ll be worth it. Learning to play music will help refine discipline and patience in your child. It fosters creativity and emotional connection. Children learn how to be attentive and focused and show others respect. Music boosts children’s self-esteem, cognitive processing and introduces them to other cultures. It provides constant learning, because it’s inexhaustible – there’s always more to learn. It’s a great form of expression, helps with motor skills and can be mood changing. Years ago, one tune could stop my son midway through a carpet-biting episode of the terrible twos. In our house, I had on permanent standby, the CD track of Now we are free (bizarrely from the non-soothing film, Gladiator). It precipitated instant calm… And how can Van Halen’s Jump not invigorate a room full of silent, screen-gazing kids?
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