Music makes great contributions to the child’s cognitive development and this starts even in the womb. Before birth, the baby (in the twentieth week of gestation) can hear sounds such as heartbeat, breathing rhythm, mother’s voice, and at the same time respond to these stimuli by moving or kicking. Thus, it can be said that babies are “born musical,” as they have the auditory ability to discern different noises because of sound experiences coming from inside their mother’s womb.

According to the Brazilian neonatal nurse Rebeca Batista da Silva, the baby who listens to music in an orderly and sequential manner during pregnancy, is better at breastfeeding, sleeps more, and cries less, since he has created positive emotional bonds with his mother through music. Silva also points out that the newborn is very attentive to sound production, especially from the seventh or eighth months of age, coordinating it with voluntary mouth movements, and modifying and modulating the sounds as he is stimulated by his mother.

The human brain is an organ that develops and improves through music. The presence of music contributes to strengthening of a baby’s speech muscles, as he babbles and starts his first sounds. These first sound skills also contribute to motor development as they move with the beat of the song.

Musicality captivates babies’ attention and tightens bonds between parents and children, as it produces in their brain a hormone called oxytocin, responsible for feelings of confidence and affection. Under this influence, music nurtures ties and develops empathy and parental attachment.

As the baby grows, music prepares her for more complex skills such as language development. Musical sounds assist the child in auditory discrimination, sensory expression, learning of new words, and expansion of the vocabulary.

Parents can take advantage of their children’s curiosity and introduce them to different musical rhythms, boosting their motor development as they dance and move together.

Upon hearing a song, sound waves are picked up by the auditory system, transformed into electrical impulses, and interpreted by the brain (primarily) in regions where emotions are processed. In addition, listening to music helps relieve stress and brings intense pleasure. As we sing and dance to our favorite music, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the reward system.

Implications of Music for Cognition and Learning

Music education from early childhood brings benefits that extend into adulthood. This is because musical activities strengthen the brain’s ability to interpret sounds and develop auditory discrimination, which are skills that greatly facilitate learning new languages. Memory and concentration are also worked in musical activities, thus improving the brain’s ability to retain new information, providing a healthier brain even in old age. There are many cognitive implications of music in learning:

Memory

Musical experiences evoke emotions, create a more focused learning state, and use rhymes and rhythms in their composition, which facilitates better recall and the formation of new memories. Because music is closely linked to the brain’s emotional systems, it better captures the student’s attention and concentration. As a result, the student can more quickly retain and remember information, thereby improving learning.

Attention

Paying attention is essential to educational success, and we can only keep our attention when the activity arouses interest. Participation in musical activities has a very positive impact on learning. The music presents rhythmic, melodic, dynamic, and repetitive patterns, and this provides a better sensorial perception, and greater focus and concentration necessary for new learning. The capacity for selective and sustained attention in children who participate in music classes is much greater than in non-practicing students.

Language

The communication system has been developing since before the child was born. This process is not restricted to reading and writing but includes non-verbal elements such as movements, music, sound signals, and—after birth—images and gestures. Music plays a very important role in language and grammar development. This is because the music, being rhythmic, helps the child in phonological awareness skills (the way sounds work), which are predictors for learning to read and write. In addition, rhythm-based activities can also help the child with arithmetic skills, such as counting numbers.

Visual-Spatial Perception

The visual-spatial functions of the brain help us to recognize and identify different stimuli from the environment. In practice, these functions allow facial recognition, deciphering of routes or addresses, identifying different objects, and they influence the way we perceive different depths. With regard to music, children engaged in music lessons develop a very refined visual-spatial ability. This is due to the practice of musical reading (the way musical notes are positioned on the score).

Executive Functions

A brain’s executive functions are mental capacities responsible for working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. In practice, these skills help us retain information, pay attention, inhibit distractions, control emotions, plan, and organize tasks.

We can see that musical activity involves and develops different cognitive functions, forming highly complex neural networks (because they work with different parts of the brain). With so many benefits, music needs to be incorporated into every student’s education. The stimulation of musical intelligence can significantly impact learning processes in reading, writing, and reasoning.

How Can Musical Intelligence Be Stimulated in a Child’s Life?

There is no learning without attention and memory. The musical experience exercises and enhances the student’s intelligence as it develops attention and facilitates the memorization of new knowledge. But where does the term “intelligence” come from and how does it connect with music?

The term “musical intelligence” is the result of research work developed by psychologist Howard Gardner from Harvard University. The work, entitled “Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” emphasizes that there are different types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence. Gardner defines intelligence as the ability to creatively solve problems in environment-specific situations. In the case of musical intelligence, the person would be able to compose/interpret songs and identify different rhythms, timbres, and melodies.

Children with strong musical intelligence really like to sing and express themselves through music. In some cases, musical children can even play a melody on an instrument, even though they’ve just heard it for the first time.

It is a fact that there are children who are gifted in music, who have an easier time playing an instrument, however, musical intelligence, since it is a skill, can be developed by anyone. For this, factors such as stimulation, interest, and practice are crucial to developing musical children. Following are examples on how to stimulate musical intelligence in children:

  • Play songs according to the child’s age
  • Watch musical movies
  • Participate in musical games
  • Produce sounds with the voice, with the body, or with different materials
  • Present different musical instruments to the child
  • Encourage the child to play a musical instrument
  • Go to musical theater plays
  • Sing in a choir
  • Walk outdoors and listen to nature’s sounds
  • Make up a jingle, a song, or a rhyme

Music is part of human development, as it accompanies us throughout life. Biologically, music educates the senses and also helps in the processes of reading, writing, and logical-mathematical reasoning. Learning to play an instrument, for example, can facilitate all learning because it exercises attention and shapes memory. Another tip is to use music as a pedagogical tool (creating parodies), to memorize formulas, dates, and other topics in education. In addition to being a lot of fun, it can be quite effective. Thus, the inclusion of music in education, regardless of age, will significantly impact learning.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).

Copyright 2021, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Winter 2021-22 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Daniela Silva is a Brazilian educational writer who currently lives in Brazil, with her husband. She holds a BA in pedagogy, an MBA in personnel management, and a postgraduate certificate in neuroeducation. Working with social projects since 2009, Mrs. Silva is a regular contributor to several educational websites.