Benefits of Early Music Education

While there is no question that our classes are high-quality, high-energy and ridiculously fun for all involved, we have serious reasons for doing what we do. For one thing even if you’re not particularly interested in music, early music education is proven to have a profound influence on early brain development. And if you are interested in music education, unlike other areas of learning it is time-sensitive.

NEURAL DEVELOPMENT: A study of children 5-7 demonstrates that musical training results in more connections (neurons) forming between the right-brain and the left-brain.  Researchers looked at images of the brains of the children before assigning them to one of three groups: high-practicing, low-practicing, and no music instruction. There were no differences in left-brain, right-brain connections prior to the musical instruction. However, after two years of musical instruction and practice, these children had more connections than children not given musical instruction.  The children assigned to the high practicing group had the most number of connections.  Schlaug G, Forgeard M, Zhu L, Norton A, Norton A, Winner E. Training-induced neuroplasticity in young children. The Neurosciences and Music III: Disorders and Plasticity. Ann NY Acad Sci. 2009;1169:205-8.

Developmental Music Aptitude: From birth to approximately age nine, a child’s musical aptitude is in a state of change.  It is vulnerable to positive or negative influence through both instruction and environment, and is most vulnerable during the earliest years.  The most typical negative influence on developmental music aptitude is simply neglect.  Without sufficient stimulation, the inborn potential for musical growth will actually atrophy.  After age 9, music aptitude is stabilized and will not change regardless of instruction or environment.

BENEFIT OF INTERACTIVE MUSIC CLASSES ON INFANTS:  Researchers at McMaster University in Canada found that infants who participated in parent/child interactive music classes had a better understanding of music and improved social development compared to infants who listened to background music only.

In the first study of its kind, researchers assigned 6-month old babies to one of two types of musical experiences. In one group the babies participated in a parent/child interactive music class involving singing, movement, instrument play and a take home CD. (Sound familiar?) In the other group the children listened to music from Baby Einstein CDs in the background while involved in art and play activities, and received the same CDs to take home and listen to. At 12 months, the babies who participated in the interactive music class showed a greater understanding of tonal pitch structure and an enhanced response to music than the babies who listened to background music. In addition, they showed less distress in unusual situations, communicated better and smiled more!  Trainor et al. 2012. Becoming musically enculturated: effects of music classes for infants on brain and behavior. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1252:129-138

INFANTS DETECT THE BEAT IN MUSIC: A 2009 study showed that newborns can process music even if they don’t show an outward response.  Researchers played consistent percussive rhythm patterns and then occasionally changed the pattern for newborns who were sleeping.  The newborns were able to detect the change! How do we know? Tiny sensors on the surface of their heads were able to detect a change in their brain waves.  Winkler, I., G. Haden, O. Ladinig, et al. Newborn; infants detect the beat in music. Proc. Natl. Acad.Sci. 2009; 106: 2468-2471.  

MOVEMENT INFLUENCES INFANT RHYTHM PERCEPTION: In this study, seven month-old Infants were bounced to a specific beat (either in duple or triple meter). Afterward they paid attention longer to music with the same beat they were bounced to.  Infants that listened to the same music but weren’t bounced did not show a preference for either type of beat. This demonstrates that infants of this age can perceive the beat more readily if bounced to it.

Phillips-Silver J, Trainor LJ. Feeling the beat: Movement influences infant rhythm perception. Science 2005;308:1430.

USE IT OR LOOSE IT CONCEPT: Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle compared language perception between Japanese and American infants. They investigated the ability of these infants to distinguish between the sounds of R and L.  (R and L are both used in English, but there is no L sound in the Japanese language, only R.)  They found that at six months of age English and Japanese infants could equally distinguish between R and L sounds.  By 12 months, the Japanese children had lost the ability to distinguish the difference between R and L sounds. Meanwhile, at 12 months, the American children had become better at hearing the difference between the two sounds.

How does this relate to music?  This study exemplifies how quickly and dramatically the human brain is developing during the first year of life.  During the first six months the brain is receptive to all sounds.  By the second six months the brain is already prioritizing: discarding the ability to distinguish sounds that are not part of its environment, and reinforcing the ability to distinguish sounds that it hears regularly.

Since music and language are both sound based, one could hypothesize that a similar process occurs with music.   Exposure to a wide variety of musical sounds and adequate repetition of those sounds between the ages of six and twelve months may have a lasting impact on the brain’s ability to perceive those sounds.  Lack of musical stimulation during this sensitive time may make it more challenging for the brain to understand musical sounds in the future.

Pitch Recognition: Dr. Christo Pantev measured the brain’s response to tonal stimuli using an MRI.  He found that the part of the brain associated with pitch recognition was larger among musicians than non-musicians.  Most significantly, the musicians who had started training earliest had the largest development in that area.

(Pantev C, Oostenveld R, Engelien A, et al.  Increased Auditory Coritcal Representation in Musicians.  Nature 1998; 392:811-814)

Perfect Pitch: Another scientific study found a strong correlation between early musical study and the development of perfect pitch (the ability to identify exact pitches without reference to an instrument).  Six hundred musicians were surveyed.  Forty percent of the musicians in this study who had begun training at four years of age reported absolute pitch, whereas only three percent of those who had started training at nine years of age did so.

(Baharloo S, Johnston P, Service S, et al.  Absolute Pitch: An Approach For Identification of Genetic and Nongenetic Components.  American Journal of Human)

Large Vocabulary: Research has demonstrated that children who grow up in a household where they are exposed to a large spoken vocabulary learn to speak with a large vocabulary.  The same concept is true in music.  Children exposed to a large vocabulary of musical sounds learn to understand those sounds and to use them in their own music making.

One of the very powerful ways in which we help children reach basic music competence (the ability to sing in tune and keep a steady beat) is by providing a very rich variety of music incorporating many styles, meters, tonalities and instrumentation.  In the same way that children learn to speak, they learn the language of music- by listening, decoding and then experimenting on their own through play.

The research is endless.  There are studies showing the impact of music on I.Q., parent/child bonding, speech and language learning, emotional/mental health, growth of auditory and complex motor skills and on and on.  Because we know that music profoundly affects children during their earliest years, we have devoted ourselves to providing a classroom environment, songs, instruments, lesson plans and teaching that will be most beneficial to your developing child.