“Music can change the world because it can change people.”
-Bono, singer & songwriter
Babies and young children moving to music or attempting to sing along is one of the most heart-warming moments of child observation. When we reflect on this, we realize humans are innately musical and identify with rhythm early on in life. Maybe that is why music is embedded in all cultures. It has an undeniable impact across age groups- a range of effects on our moods and consequently our behaviour. No wonder, lullabies are used to soothe babies around the world.
The existing body of research confirms that music can have a calming or arousing effect even on the unborn child. But is the role of music only limited to the feelings and emotions? This article takes a look at the role of music in early childhood by exploring its effects on various areas of development.
Scientists have noted that new-borns can recognize music they were exposed to in the womb. Infants can perceive the rhythm and beat of what they hear even before they are able to create sounds through vocalization (cooing/ babbling). Their auditory processing is also far more advanced than their visual processing (Wilcox, 1999). Therefore babies can hear before they can see. (Check out the curated Thālelo playlist on Spotify).
It is now widely believed that active participation of children in making music has greater impact on their development than passive listening. Bearing this in mind, music and movement activities and musical training should be an integral part of all child development programmes.
“I would teach children, music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are keys to learning.” –Plato
What studies tell us about the impact of music from prenatal stage to early childhood?
Cognitive/ Intellectual Development:
- Prenatal auditory experience affects brain plasticity (How the networks in the brain grow and reorganize with stimulation). The sounds an unborn child is exposed to can have an effect on their brain development. Pleasant music can increase the number of pathways between brain cells. While adverse sounds can have long term negative impact on the baby.
Physical- Motor (movement) Development:
- The ability to control the small and large muscle movements (fine and gross motor) develop when children make music through actions like clapping, tapping, dancing or playing any musical instrument. The body and brain connection is improved through ‘music and movement’ activities.
- Music has an emotional impact. It helps babies and young children experience positive emotions. It soothes babies and they breathe differently depending on what they are listening to. Therefore Music therapy has been found to ease the distress of preterm babies and infants in NICUs.
- In the early years, musical interactions with peers and adults, leads to socio-emotional development. It enhances their communication, coordination, cooperation and even empathy among the group (Koelsch,2010). It can aide in forming bonds by creating a sense of community and belonging to the group.
As seen in pre-school activities, children often feel more comfortable while participating in a group music and movement session. Eg:- Singing along with the teacher, doing “action songs” with peers, using musical instruments etc.
- Musical training improves listening skills. Children who are involved in music tend to have better vocabularies. They have been found to perform better in the vocabulary segment of Children’s I.Q tests.
- Music improves reading skills as both music and learning linguistics involve shared processes.
- Expose children to pleasant music right from the womb.
- Indulge in musical play for infants and toddlers. The age old practice of reciting a rhyme while wiggling their toes and fingers, bouncing the baby, making gestures, pointing, clapping etc.
- Infants can be rocked and patted to music as well.
- Use different music to indicate transition to a different activity. A child can learn to associate particular songs to meal time, sleep time, bath time etc.
- Sing to babies. Not just lullabies but other songs as well that have a steady beat.
- Respond when they sway the body or make any movements to music.
- Encourage children when they attempt to make music by manipulating objects. Whether it is using a rattle, any household item, toy instruments etc.
- Sing and dance along with young children. Make all musical activities interactive. Use rhythmic movements and patterns. Let the child participate in whatever capacity they are able to.
- Enrol in parent-toddler groups which have music and movement exercises. Informal music activities can start after birth.
- Begin systematic music activities around age three and formal training in playing an instrument should start between ages 6-9 years (Cutietta, 2021).
- Any musical interaction at home with family members can be an enriching and a powerful experience for all. For example: Intergenerational musical activities with grandparents.
Irrespective of what activity you choose, do remember-
Honour your child’s individuality.
If they refuse to participate or exhibit distress with sound exposure, discontinue or change the stimuli. Musical learning though best introduced in the early years should never be enforced to the point of becoming a displeasure.
- Wilcox,T. (1999). Object individuation: infants’ use of shape, size, pattern, and color.Cognition,72(2), 125-166
- Koelsch,S.(2010). Towards a neural basis of music-evoked emotions. Trends Cogn.Sci. 14, 131-137
- Gudmundsdottir,H.R. (2017) The Importance of Music in Early Childhood: Perspectives from Research and Practice. Journal of the Early Childhood Music & Movement Association. 12(1):9-16
- Partenen E, Kujala T, Tervaniemi M, Huotilainen M (2013) Prenatal Music Exposure Induces Long- Term Neural Effects. PLoS ONE 8(10): e78946
- The Effects Of Music Therapy on Vital Signs, Feeding and Sleep in Premature Infants
- What’s the Right Age to Begin Music Lessons?
- Music and Baby’s Development
- Why Making Music Matters- Music and Early Childhood Development
- How musical training affects cognitive development: rhythm, reward and other modulating variables.
- Music in Early Childhood Development- Music and the Child