How Music Makes You Smarter
by Johanne Brodeur
When my mom enrolled me in music lessons almost half a century ago, I am sure she did not realize the full impact those lessons would have on my early development. To this day, I still feel that impact—almost 50 years later, I am still playing the piano.
Today, parents are more knowledgeable and informed about the importance of music. And they have more options and opportunities for their children than they did 50 years ago.
In the past decade especially, researchers have studied the influence of music on young children. Their findings show that young children taking music lessons from an early age show stronger brain development. Not only do they score higher on musical listening skills, but children taking music lessons also score better on memory, reading, writing, visuo-spatial processing, language, communication, and math tests.
So we know children benefit from music in their lives, but how does this really work?
Participating in music classes affects numerous parts of the brain and the nervous system which in turn affects a child’s overall ability to learn and perform.
Music facilitates the brain to make the necessary connections to learn and remember, and music integrates sensory information, which is crucial to succeed in developing a wide variety of skills.
Think of your brain as a muscle that needs constant exercising to stay fit, and think of music classes as a workout for your brain. Now imagine that when you enrol your children in music classes you are sending them to a brain gym. Just like your body, your brain needs exercise and training to remain active, healthy and in top form. Music is a great and fun way to exercise your brain.
Playing music is a highly complex brain process. During a music class, your child is engaged in a complex learning process and acquires non-musical skills much needed to succeed in school. Your child must listen carefully, memorize rhythmic patterns, imitate those patterns using hands and feet in coordination, integrate the patterns with a melody, memorize the words to the song, sing the words on exact notes, even perhaps learn to read rhythm and notation.
Being part of a group music class also teaches children to become more discriminating about the information coming their way. Children must listen carefully while coordinating their musical efforts with the rest of the group which requires them to pay attention to their own musical part and not become distracted by what the other students are playing or doing.
Despite the brain being so complex, it is unable to process all of the sensory information that bombards us every second and must therefore be selective and decide what is relevant at any given time. The brain acts as a filter mechanism, deciding what is important and what is not. Music classes are a wonderful way to train the brain to do this and thus increase attention abilities in children.
The brain is indeed fascinating. And how easy it is to give our children the best possible chance to exercise such an important part of their body while having fun. There are a multitude of music lessons out there from baby music classes to toddlers music groups, from drumming lessons to private instrument classes, and much more. Choose the right one for your child and the music will do the rest.
Dr. Johanne Brodeur is the Children’s Music and the Music Therapy Department Head at the Victoria Conservatory of Music and is planning to play the piano for another half a century.