Why Music is Important for Child Development?

A little boy running with ukulele in hand

The effects of music on child development have been well documented in family, medical, and educational research. But how do these effects look in real life, with our own children, and in our own music rooms?   As a classroom music teacher, private lesson instructor, and mother, I can attest to some of these effects in a very real way. Let’s examine some of the specific aspects of child development that music can affect the most. Then we can apply this knowledge to help our own students and children.

Physical Development  

From infancy, children begin to explore the world around them through their physical senses. Sight, sound, texture, taste, and smell are all used to develop a child’s cognitive abilities and establish their sense of surroundings.   Babies are responsive to a steady beat patted on their back, and as they grow, will make dancing movements in their bodies. By the time a child can stomp to a nursery rhyme, you can begin to see how body movements to music increase their balance. Spacial awareness, and large movement skills also start to develop.   When a child begins to play an instrument, the effects of music on fine motor skills begins to increase. They are more agile, more adaptive. In one study linking music instruction to fine motor skill development, Eugenia Costa-Giomi discovered that musicians outperform non-musicians in certain perception tasks that require an accurate and immediate motor response to a visual stimulus.   I have watched as my own children have had spurts of growth in their physical development, attributed to their instrument playing. Their rock climbing ability is more smooth and confident, and their ability to draw and write has increased.   If you’re looking for a way to help your child grow and adapt , engaging them in music practice of all kinds is a great way to do so.

Cognitive Development

Years ago I started a 4th grade boy in private trumpet lessons. His parents described him as a ‘slow learner’ who was ‘two grade levels behind’ in his reading skills. I insisted that he learn to read music, perform his best on scales and drills, and practice sight reading every day.   After two years of private lessons he had increased his reading level by one full grade level. In three years he was performing on par with his peers. I watched as week after week his music reading skills improved, and his literacy outside of music followed.   In his article “Can Music Instruction Affect Children's Cognitive Development?”, Francis Rauscher states, “The research suggests that music may act as a catalyst for cognitive abilities in other disciplines, and the relationship between music and spatial-temporal reasoning is particularly compelling.”   My own daughter had a similar experience. She was dyslexic and labeled a ‘slow reader’ from a young age. When she started taking music lessons in the 5th grade, everything changed. She found a passion for music, and literacy. She devours books now, and the only thing that changed in stimulus was learning to play an instrument and read music.   These are but two examples of the effects of music on child development, especially cognition. But what about quantified ways?  

Social and Emotional Development

Anyone who has performed with a musical ensemble will tell you the ways doing so has changed them. Whether it’s in being able to relate to their peers in the group, or in their ability to work together on a common goal.   Performing in a music group helps establish a sense of self. Music listening preferences develop individualism. Many social cultures are based on the type of music a student listens to. Hip hop, country, pop, electronica, metal each have a stereotypical fashion, demeanor, and social construct designated to it.   Using apps like Solfeg.io to help explore the diversity of musical realms while encouraging considerate practice and are a useful tool for educators and parents alike.   Whether its social skills through group ensemble performing, or individualism based on music listening, learning music has effects of music on child development in society at large. There is currently a very relevant trend in music education called Social-Emotional learning, a concept geared toward utilizing music curriculum choices to specifically target social behaviors in students.   Music has long been linked to the education and development of emotional range. What books do for the mind, music does for the heart.   My daughter recently had to have a medical procedure that would be both painful and anxiety-inducing. She begged me to play her music. Not rock, nor pop, but “Jupiter” from Holsts The Planets. Music is her coping strategy, as it is for so many of us.   “Music is the effort we make to explain to ourselves how our brains work. We listen to Bach transfixed because this is listening to the human mind.” Lewis Thomas, U.S. physician, educator, 1979.   As parents and teachers, it is important for us to understand the effects of music on child development so that we may more fully leverage music’s unique ability to sculpt our student’s lives; physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally.  

Written by Elisa Janson Jones