Girl playing the drum

The benefits of music for kids

For preschoolers

Both formal research and simple observation demonstrate that music can benefit your child in many ways:

  • Development of speech and language

Singing simple songs can help to develop an understanding of the basic structure of language, to become familiar with normal speech patterns and expand vocabulary.

  • Mathematics

According to Professor Shaw from the University of Los Angeles, learning about rhythm within music helps to develop an understanding of ratios, proportions and fractions.

  • Social Skills

Dr Lamont, Lecture in the Psychology of Music at the University of Keele, reports that children who participate in music develop higher levels of social cohesion and skills such as empathy.

  • Confidence and self expression

Music offers children an opportunity to express a range of complex emotions that are often too difficult to convey with verbal communication, and for those children with less confidence to participate without having to rely on words.

At primary school

  • Researchers at Brown University in the USA have reported findings that suggest that music lessons can help children who are falling behind at school to catch up with and even surpass their peers in reading and maths. The benefits of seven months of music lessons also resulted in significantly improved behaviour ratings within the classroom

Secondary school

  • Research conducted across a number of Universities in America, found that high school pupils who participate in the performing arts, including music, are less likely to become involved in drugs, crime or have behavioural problems.

The Mozart Effect

In its strict sense the Mozart Effect claims to demonstrate improved performance on spatio-temporal reasoning tasks in the immediate 10-15 minutes after listening to part of a Mozart piano sonata or similar complex music. Spatio-temporal reasoning is the ability to visualise something in space that unfolds over time. For example, estimating how a piece of paper will look unfolded, or reading a map. An improvement in this area of thinking has been linked to skills required in academic subjects like mathematics and science, and so the Mozart effect is claimed to have positive implications for educational performance.

Most studies of this effect have been with adults, and many have limitations. Those that are reported to be sound trials, generally either report no significant effect, or demonstrate that the ‘effect’ is most likely associated with improved arousal and mood, rather than related to specific cognitive skills.

Only a small number of studies have been conducted specifically with children, and none have demonstrated a significant effect on performance in spatio-temporal skills, as originally claimed.

Music as Therapy

Music Therapy is a professional discipline that uses music to achieve therapeutic aims. In young children it involves the use of musical interactions to enhance and develop areas such as socialisation, communication, self-expression, and sensory-motor skills. Music Therapists work with children in many settings (hospitals, early intervention centres, private practice) and with varying needs (neonatal, autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, communication/speech and language impairment, emotional difficulties).

All music therapy programs are individualised, but may involve the use of:

  • Movement to music
  • Singing and chanting
  • Educational/instructional songs
  • Involvement in a group
  • Improvisation
  • Instrumental playing
  • Music listening

To find a Music Therapist look on the Music Therapy New Zealand website.

This article has been provided by Penni Drysdale, a freelance writer and mother of two boys.