I remember laughing because my oldest son seemed to kick me in time to the songs I sang to him whilst he was still in the womb. I thought it was to shut me up, but I later learned that babies can learn rhythm whilst still in the womb! When I played Cat Stevens to my youngest son after he was born, he would settle easily and loved the Moonshadow song which he could sing perfectly at three!
Anyone who has had, or even spent time with, a baby, will know the transformative effect that singing a song can have on their mood. Even though it seems miraculous at the time, the effect of music is not as surprising as it seems, it’s hardwired into us!
The field of science called neuromusicology, which studies how the nervous system reacts to music, has proven that music activates the entire brain. This is the case when interacting with music in any way whether that’s playing music, dancing to music or just listening to it.
A study carried out by neuroscientists at McGill University in Montreal in 2001 found that when people listened to pleasurable music it activated the limbic and paralimbic brain regions which produce the same euphoric feeling we get from sex, good food and addictive drugs.
In short, the human brain, at any age, gets a ‘rush’ from listening to music, but can it have a deeper, long-term impact too?
A new study by Durham University, has found that children correctly identified emotions better when shown pictures of people’s faces when music was played that fitted the emotion. For example, when happy music was played and a happy face was shown, children were more likely to identify the emotion correctly than if sad music was playing.
The findings show that whilst we focus on what children see, what they hear is equally important. This could help parents and childcare professionals use music as a means of encouraging positive emotional engagement and helping children to recognise emotions in a range of different situations.
Listening to music we enjoy releases the body’s feel-good chemicals, oxytocin and endorphins. These chemicals can help to lift a child’s mood, which may in turn help them to work through problems or anxieties they may be experiencing. Studies have shown that listening to positive upbeat music regularly helps to improve overall mood.
It has also been shown that music can act as effective pain relief from both physical and emotional pain. A 2015 review in The Lancet found that people who listened to music before, during, or after surgery experienced less pain and anxiety.
It’s not news that making music is a great form of expression but this can also be the case simply by listening to it.
Incorporating listening to music and dancing into your child’s world, opens their mind up to creativity and imagination. Listening to different genres of music from different cultures and countries opens up a world of possibilities and education. It can spark curiosity and take them on a learning journey that will last a lifetime.
Listening to music has been found to significantly reduce anxiety in a wide range of different people of different ages. It has been found to be so effective in reducing anxiety in children, that music therapy is used as a common intervention to help children with anxiety-based disorders.
Research has shown that listening to classical music can enhance children’s capacity for spatial-temporal reasoning, paving the way for them to excel in subjects like mathematics.
In studies involving adults, it has been shown that listening to a piece of classical music before doing a puzzle allows a person to complete the puzzle more quickly. This is because classical music turns on the neural pathways used for spatial reasoning.
Learning to play an instrument has an even more powerful and long-lasting effect on the brain. In several studies, children who took piano lessons for six months improved their ability to solve puzzles and do other spatial tasks by as much as 30 percent!
Singing out-loud increases endorphins and makes us feel good. It also helps us take deeper breaths and take more oxygen into our bloodstream. In short, having a good old sing-a-long can make you and your child feel a lot better.
This can be especially useful when you’re going into potentially stressful or anxious situations. Car journeys are a very good time to use music as an aid!
Getting your body moving to a rhythm whilst listening to music is one of the best ways to release those endorphins, making you and your child feel calm and happy.
Learning to play an instrument and read music from a young age has a long list of benefits including changing the actual structure of a child’s brain, allowing it to make stronger connections and improve cognitive ability. If your child shows an interest in learning to play music, then definitely encourage it!
Make music a cultural learning journey for both of you. Put on an album or an artist, sit and listen and discuss what you hear. Conversations could open up about the style of music, how it makes you feel or the country or part of the world its from. Listening to music like this can help to bring it alive for both you and the child and spark a long life interest.
Enhance their creativity and imagination by having a go at writing some songs together. This will teach them that they don’t have to always just be an observer of music, they can create it themselves - an empowering lesson for their own creativity!
What impact has music has on yours and your child's life?