Exposing kids to music provides lifelong brain benefits

“Daddy… I’ve decided. I’m gonna be a singer.”

I can still picture my oldest daughter Tupelo’s sweet little face as she ran up to me, toy microphone in hand, ecstatic to share her newfound epiphany.

“That’s great, honey,” I said, thinking to myself that she’ll most certainly grow out of this…

Funny thing is, she never did grow out of it. And I couldn’t be happier. Not just because she shares my lifelong passion for music…but because research shows just how good it is for kids.

tupelo donovan
My daughter Tupelo, age five, singing her heart out.
IMAGE SOURCE: Jim Donovan

In fact, kids need music.

And that’s not just my opinion… it’s a scientific fact.

After taking a look at the research, I’ve learned that music not only plays a foundational role in a child’s brain development and function, but offers benefits so powerful, it could very well transform a child’s entire life––for the better.

Music education sharpens essential skills

Studies have shown that music education can improve children’s development in a variety of ways including:

  • Language development
  • Reading
  • Speech perception

In a five-year study published in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, researchers studied the brain development of 37 children between the ages of six and seven.

The children were split into three intervention groups:

  • A group taught music lessons
  • A group taught soccer skills
  • A group that did not undergo any training

Researchers found that the children in the music group far surpassed the other groups when it came to their ability to process auditory information.

Auditory processing skills refer to how you interpret and decode language, speech, and social interaction––factors that play a vital role in self-expression and how you communicate, react, follow instructions, or remember what you hear.

Researchers conclude music training provides lifelong advantages

In a large 2014 meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, researchers found that, compared to kids without musical training, those who play music tend to have a higher general IQ, as well as better verbal memory, reading ability, and executive functions (cognitive abilities that allow you to do things like focus, plan, regulate emotions, begin and complete tasks).

Music training also helps with neuroplasticity––the brain’s ability to reorganize itself, grow, and change by strengthening its communication pathways.

The benefits were so profound the research team concluded by saying:

“The advice for parents and educators is clear: promote instrumental training in early childhood, as it may result in life-long advantages.”

And I’ve certainly witnessed some of these beneficial effects in my own kids.

From the playroom to the stage

My wife Tracey and I raised our three children, exposing them to music early on in a variety of ways. We instinctively felt it would be a good thing.

We’d play music for them while Tracey was pregnant. And when they were little, she’d always sing them to sleep.

As toddlers, we took them to kid-focused music programs where they were exposed to socialization, singing, movement, and rhythm games.

And as they grew up, we always had music playing in the car and in the house. It was just a normal part of their everyday lives.

Although I might be a little biased, I certainly feel like I’ve witnessed the benefits of music exposure in my own children.

From that pink, plastic microphone to now

My daughter Tupelo is 20 years old now and a sophomore in college. She’s a bright, creative, and ambitious young woman. And ever since the day she got that pink plastic microphone, she’s worked hard to keep her dream alive.

For Tupelo, music seems to have altered the direction of her life for the better.

In fact, I’m proud to announce that Tupelo has released her first song to the world—and I’d love for you to hear it.

It’s titled “When Will It Be Tomorrow.” And in her own words, “it’s for anyone who can relate to the heaviness a person can feel just living in this world.” And I think now, more than ever, we could use a song like this.

You can listen to it here. http://www.TupeloDonovan.com

tupelo donovan music
IMAGE SOURCE: Tupleo Donovan

I couldn’t be more proud.

The more exposure, the better

The bottom line today is this: Expose your kids to music as much as possible.

The benefits alone are worth every penny you might spend on an instrument or music lessons.

However, I will say this: While I took my kids to early music classes, I never forced them to take lessons or be anything other than what they wanted to be.

My daughter Ella, who was painfully shy as a child, has now developed a love of musical theater and sings in front of crowds of people with poise and ease.

My youngest son Oliver never expressed much interest in music until just recently. A few weeks ago, he told me he wanted to learn to play the piano. And now, I constantly hear music flowing from his room. 

As guiding forces in our children’s lives, it’s our duty to show them all the options they have in this world––particularly the ones that can benefit them for the rest of their life. And what a gift that is.


SOURCES:

Habibi, A., Chan, B., Damasia, A., and Damasio H. (2018). Music training and child development: a review of recent findings from a longitudinal study. Annals of the New York Academy of Science. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29508399

Habibi, A., Chan, B., Damasia, A., and Damasio H. (2016). Neural correlates of accelerated auditory processing in children engaged in music training. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. 21: pp. 1 – 14. Retrieved from: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878929315301122

Miendlarzewska, Ewa & Trost, Wiebke. (2014). How musical training affects cognitive development: Rhythm, reward and other modulating variables. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 7: p. 279. Retrieved from: researchgate.net/publication/261140683_How_musical_training_affects_cognitive_development_Rhythm_reward_and_other_modulating_variables

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.