“Research shows that at-least some musical education has a positive impact on social and cognitive development of children. And these effects are long lasting – better hearing, better motor skills, improved memory, better verbal and literacy skills.”
Alan Harvey’s 2018 TEDx Talk, Your Brain on Music, paints a vivid picture of how central music is to human development. For Homo sapiens of all ages, music possesses incredible power. It inspires us, connects us, and helps us grow. And this is doubly true of the most malleable members of our species: children.
The positive effects of music on child development are well-documented, complex, and fascinating. Many parents are well aware of this, which is why – alongside summer camps, little league, and so on – they are so keen to fit music lessons into their children’s schedules.
Here at Tunelark, people ask us, “Is there any science on how music affects children’s growth?” In the spirit of answering this question, we decided to put together a roll-up blog documenting the evidence around child development through music. We’ve grouped the research into four areas, all of which speak to why music is important for child development: socialization and empathy; memory; hearing and speech; and a curiosity for learning.
1. Music Develops a Child’s Hearing and Speech
Contrary to older theories, recent neuroscience has established that “music and speech functions have many aspects in common and that several neural modules are similarly involved in speech and music.” Furthermore, in a book published in 2021 by neuroscientist Dr. Nina Kraus, Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World, she pointed out that, “Musicians enjoy distinct advantages in processing speech sounds, thereby strengthening communication through language.”Little surprise, then, that the positive effects of music on child development extend to other sensory areas, such as hearing and speaking.
Martin J. Bergee of the University of Kansas examined 1,000 middle-school students to determine if there was a link between music education and improved performance in other areas. According to the research, “learning music did appear to make students better mathematicians and readers.”
“With music, one’s whole future life is brightened. This is such a treasure in life that it helps us over many troubles and difficulties. Music is nourishment, a comforting elixir. Music multiplies all that is beautiful and of value in life.” – Zoltan Kodaly
2. Music Education Improves Memory Retention
Memory is a key cognitive trait that plays a role in every facet of cognitive performance. A sharp memory helps us be better friends, better employees, and better citizens. It is a powerful predictor of various measures of success. And memory is one area where the impact of music on children is crystal clear.
- According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “children who undergo musical training have better verbal memory, second language pronunciation accuracy, reading ability, and executive functions.”
- In a study by the National Institutes of Health and John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, children aged eight to 12 who took music classes were shown to have significant improvement with memory retention in both music and non-musical subjects.
- Another study from Stanford University suggests that adults who took music lessons at around the age of seven were found to have a higher degree of language comprehension, even years later.
“Music enhances the education of our children by helping them to make connections and broaden the depth with which they think and feel. If we are to hope for a society of culturally literate people, music must be a vital part of our children’s education.” – Yo-Yo Ma
3. Learning Music Helps Socialization and Develops Empathy in Children
Music is a communal experience. We create together, listen together, dance together. And the bonding effect of music is something that can help children develop their social skills early in life.
Through music, children – like adults – can socialize over their favorite songs and artists, and bond over their shared love of music. In group settings, playing instruments together, they can connect over shared acts of creativity, and achieve flow states together. All of this can have positive effects on the evolving young mind.
This connection between music and brain development in early childhood is well-documented:
“Music education opens doors that help children pass from school into the world around them – a world of work, culture, intellectual activity, and human involvement. The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music.” – Gerald Ford
4. Music Creates a Curiosity for Education
Learning is learning is learning. Developing musical skills at a young age requires a commitment, concentration, and passion that isn’t solely applicable to the melodic realm. One of the most foundational positive effects of music on child development is to create a curiosity for learning that then extends across to other domains.
Research confirms that “music education at an early age greatly increases the likelihood that a child will grow up to seek higher education and ultimately earn a higher salary.”
- A study conducted by Harris Interactive found out that “seven in ten U.S. adults say that music education had at least some influence on their current level of personal fulfillment, with more than one-third (37%) saying that their music education has been extremely or very influential and one-third (32%) saying it was somewhat influential.”
- In a 2017 study conducted by the American Psychological Association to determine whether music education was connected with higher academic achievement and executive function performance, results indicated that, “relative to controls, students in the music education program scored higher on standardized tests, earned better grades in English language arts, and math, and exhibited superior performance on select tasks of EFs and short-term memory.”
“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” – Albert Einstein
Creating A Bright Future For Your Children Through Music
The evidence is clear: learning music as a child nurtures and boosts skills that are essential to a good life. Socialization and empathy; good memory; hearing and speech skills; a curiosity for learning – these are all skills that are as valuable at 80 years old as at 10 years old.
Parents have known this intuitively for centuries. This is why, in many different cultures, children have been encouraged to engage with music. Whether sitting down at a piano or picking up a guitar or learning a beautiful song, becoming musical is a powerful process that resonates and continues serving us through the years.
Music lessons are the most effective and time-tested method of learning how to play an instrument, sing, and study music.