Music Therapy

For years, we’ve known that listening to music has benefits for children’s development. CD series like those from Baby Einstein have become extremely popular with parents of babies because experts have recognized that listening to classical music is not only engaging to very young children but actually increases their brain’s ability to perform spatial reasoning. When a baby is born, he/she has billions of brain cells. As the baby develops, those brain cells form connections with other brain cells. When babies listen to music, especially classical music, they make strong music related connections in the brain. Over time, continued listening to classical music actually changes the way the child’s mind works by creating brain pathways that would not have been there otherwise. Listening to music does not increase IQ, per se, but can make the mind perform many important tasks more easily and with greater skill. Listening to music has been shown to prime our brains for spatial tasks, like putting together puzzles. Even adults who did not listen to music regularly as a child can experience a short-term burst in spatial capabilities after listening to music. Why Classical Music? Classical music has been shown to have the most impact on creating brain connections in children because of the complexity of the music. Classical music has a very complex musical structure. Studies have shown that babies as young as three months old can detect the special structures in works such as those of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, and can recognize music they’ve heard before. It is this complexity that leads researchers to believe that classical music is the best music for building these pathways in the brain. However, all music is good for the brain. Research has also shown that children who have early and frequent exposure to music are better at math, emphasizing the relationship between pathways built by listening to music and the brain’s function. Special Benefits to Children with Special Needs We’re fully aware of music’s benefits to all children. But, researchers are becoming more and more aware of potential additional benefits to children with learning disorders like Down’s syndrome, Autism and other learning disabilities. Children with Autism Autism is a neurological disorder that affects socialization and communication. It is a spectrum disorder that affects roughly 0.6 percent of the population, occurring four times more often in males. There has long been a connection between autism and music. Autistic children, though deficient in language, are generally able to process music as well as children their age who do not suffer from a learning disability. This often makes music of special interest to autistic children, and there have been many case studies regarding autistic children who are musical savants. In very practical terms, many parents of autistic children have found that listening to classical music can calm and soothe their children during bouts of acting out. Like repetitive motions, such as swinging and rocking, music can sometimes also be used to prevent outbursts by helping children to calm in advance of a potentially stressful situation. Classical music has been shown to actually calm the nervous system. Children with Down Syndrome One of the most important therapies for Down syndrome children is auditory therapy. Down syndrome children have great difficulty in auditory vocal processing. They have trouble learning to coordinate the movements of the lips and tongue that are required for speech. In addition, they are highly prone to ear infections, which often lead to hearing loss. When children suffer hearing loss, it further impacts their ability to speak. Music is a key element of the auditory therapy needed by Down syndrome children. Most music therapists use classical music in auditory therapy because of how it stimulates the brain and calms the nervous system at the same time. In addition to how classical music can help improve cognitive function, it helps improve auditory function, which is of special concern to these children. Children with Down syndrome can actually improve their ability to respond to the full range of sound frequencies through sound therapy using classical music. Other Learning Disabilities There are studies to indicate that classical music provides benefit to all children because of its ability to create pathways in the brain, stimulate the brain and calm the nervous system. These features are particularly important to children with any sort of learning disability. Improved ability to focus, concentrate and remain calm are positive affects for children with hyperactivity disorders, Asperger’s syndrome and ADD. In addition, the stimulation of the brain and creation of new pathways may help these children to improve their ability to perform certain tasks, especially spatially related tasks. Music holds a special place in the lives of many people. Most of us have specific songs that trigger responses and memories each time we hear them. So, it’s no surprise that music has a profound effect on our minds. We also now know that these effects can be used to improve our minds and our cognitive abilities, especially in children with learning disabilities....

Playing musical instruments leads to good mental health and helps fight depression and dementia, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of St.Andrews. Researchers arrived at the conclusion after comparing the cognitive ability of amateur musicians versus non-musicians in performing simple mental tasks. They found that musicians possess sharper minds and are able to identify and correct mistakes faster when compared to non-musicians. Their responses were more rapid and accurate when compared to people with little or no music training. The experts also compared behavioural and brain responses between both the groups in simple tests. They found that even if an individual played a musical instrument in moderate levels, the person consciously tries not to make errors. If that person commits an error, he/she tries to rectify them more effectively. The research was led by psychologist Ines Jentzsch, a reader in the university's School of Psychology and Neuroscience. "Our study shows that even moderate levels of musical activity can benefit brain functioning. Our findings could have important implications as the processes involved are among the first to be affected by ageing, as well as a number of mental illnesses such as depression," Jentzsch said in an official statement. "The research suggests that musical activity could be used as an effective intervention to slow, stop or even reverse age or illness-related decline in mental functioning." The study, published in the journal Neuropsychologia. "Musical activity cannot only immensely enrich our lives but the associated benefits for our physical and mental functioning could be even more far-reaching than proposed in our and previous research," Pianist Dr Jentzsch said in the official statement. "Music plays an important role in virtually all societies. Nevertheless, in times of economic hardship, funds for music education are often amongst the first to be cut.We strongly encourage political decision makers to reconsider funding cuts for arts education and to increase public spending for music tuition," Jentzsch said. "In addition, adults who have never played an instrument or felt too old to learn should be encouraged to take up music - it's never too late."...

We’ve come to the final part of our current series of blogs on music and learning and this week we’re looking at how learning to play a musical instrument can benefit a child’s social skills and their self-esteem.   It was Aristotle who said: ‘music has a power of forming the character and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young.’ There’s no doubting that music has many important benefits especially for children, as we’ve uncovered over our series of blogs on music and learning, but its role in boosting confidence and improving social skills is just as important as its role in areas such as IQ and memory. As many parents know, low self-esteem or issues with social skills can be detrimental to a child’s development and can lead to negative experiences in school life, so could learning to play a musical instrument help? Anecdotally there is lots of evidence to support the claim. By learning to play a musical instrument, children begin to set and achieve goals for themselves and ultimately feel a great sense of pride and boosted sense of self-esteem when they learn a new piece of music. According to Beth Luey and Stella Saperstein, authors of The Harmonious Child: Every Parent's Guide to Musical Instruments, Teachers, and Lessons; mastering this new skill allows the child to experience the sensation of doing something entertaining for themselves and others. And ‘as they learn additional skills that allow them to play well, their self-esteem will increase, as they discover they are able to reproduce musical selections on his or her instrument.’ In other words, each time a child practices a piece of music they will visibly see their abilities improve, achieving important goals along the way. Of course it won’t always go right, but this act of learning and overcoming obstacles will help them feel an innate send of satisfaction, which in turn boots how they feel about themselves. Ultimately it should help give them the confidence they need to interact more positively with their peers, have the self-assurance to participate There’s also the very real element of performance, whether it’s in a recital setting, for an exam, or just for family and friends, the act of getting up and playing a musical instrument in front of a group of people, is something that takes huge amounts of confidence. When a child has taken the time to practice their instrument in a positive learning environment, they take that boost of achievement and channel it into the ability to perform, which could have far reaching positive effects for them throughout their lives. Have you noticed your child’s self-esteem boosted since they began to learn a musical instrument? Then comment below...