“If music is the food of love, play on…” and in this case, teach on!

Music has been around for hundreds of years; stirring our deepest emotions.  In every culture, every country, mothers sing or hum a lullaby to their baby.  An English mother might sing “Twinkle, Twinkle” or “Hush, Little Baby,” while a Zulu mother sings “Thula Baba.”  No matter the culture or language; studies have shown that remarkably similar tones and ways of singing, accompanied by a swaying motion, are found.

Babies, in utero, can hear sounds from 24 weeks!  Although muffled, the child can hear the mother’s voice.  According to Dr. Annette Lotter, a doctor in education specializing in brain profiling, says that when a mother or father makes aggressive or harsh sounds, the baby’s heart rate increases and they feel anxious and scared.  Soft and happy music and voices, makes the baby feel safe and happy.  This is proof that an unborn not only hears but also experiences different emotions and sounds from an extremely early age – laying the foundation for their own emotional intelligence throughout life!

Music is the universal language, used to lift our spirits, make us smile, dance and even moves us to tears.  Therefore, if music affects emotions, can it affect intellect?  Dr. Lotter says that there are 5 brain states, ranging from deep sleep to shock.  Brain waves vary throughout the day in response to stimulation.  Music influences brain activity and we respond emotionally and physically.  For example, listening to heavy rock or metal music, not only affects our nervous system in a damaging way, but it can also make us more aggressive.  Relaxing, classical or other music on the other hand, makes us calm and is not just good for our brain, but also our emotional state and nerves.

Many studies have been done and has proven that there is a definite link between certain types of music and studying.  Baroque-music (think Mozart) influences the child’s brain wave activity.  A normal heartbeat is about 60 – 75 beat per minute and in order to induce alpha brain waves (needed for studying), playing music with that number of beats, is excellent.  Classical or instrumental music is best, as there are no words to distract the child whilst learning.  Using relaxing music to help a child go to relax and/or go to sleep is another tool to use that’ll induce melatonin-production and a deep sleep.  Dr. Lotter further explains that, if a child is agitated or stressed, the non-dominant hemisphere in the cortex switches off, which is not a good learning state.  Have you ever tried to recall a name or telephone number when stressed or in shock?

Another positive when playing passive music for about 10 – 15 minutes, is when you want your child to calm down after a day of play / activities.  This will help to get their brain waves back into alpha state, which accommodates learning and sleep.

I am certain that you have heard about the Mozart-effect?  In the early 1990s a study found that, after listening to classical music (especially Mozart), students showed an improvement in certain spatial-temporal tests.  Many studies have also indicated that there is a positive link between the Mozart-effect and studying languages and maths.  American neurologist, Oliver Sacks, call this “orange juice to the brain,”  because it is the most profoundest, non-chemical medication that can treat various conditions, for example depression, organic diseases and anxiety.  In his book “Musicophilia:  Tales of Music and the Brain,” (Knopf), Dr. Sacks describes the way music is proven to calm agitation, improve emotional intelligence and stimulate both memory and linguistic ability. 

Learning to play music, instead of just listening to it, has a positive influence over non-musical intelligence (linguistic-, spatial- and mathematical skills).  Numerous studies have pointed to a correlation between playing an instrument and achieving higher grades.  Due to MRI technologies, scientists can now also see that musicians really do have significantly more grey matter in certain parts of their brains!

A South African psychologist and co-founder of the South African Music Appreciation & Development School, Dr. Lydia Dreyer, believes that music will stimulate a child’s overall development; particularly when it is introduced through age-appropriate activities. Not only will it develop music-appreciation skills, but it will also develop intellectual, emotional, social, motor, listening and concentration skills in a playful manner.

No matter what instrument you learn to play, each require different visual, spatial and auditory skills.  It teaches a child to focus and multi-task, as well as teaching patience, practice and precision.  Not only does a child learn to read music, but he / she also learn to keep the beat, play the right notes, learn to play loud and soft, fast and slow, and he / she learns to co-ordinate his / her hands, eyes, ears and breathing!  There are also many personal and interpersonal skills that get a big boost and, by learning that a piece of music can take time, effort and patience, a child learns about organisational skills and time management from an early age.  A sense of achievement comes through every time a child learns a new piece of music or technique.

Looking at the research done, one can easily see the correlation between maths and music.  in a bar of music, for example, the beat is sub-divided into whole notes, half-notes, quarter-notes, and so forth.  In a nutshell you are dealing with fractions; and reading / clapping to the beat, therefore, involves both counting notes and rhythms.

Music and language have similar traits.  Both consist of rhythm, tone and pitch.  Until the age of 6, a child can easily learn to speak more than 1 language.  Instead of trying to remember words grammatically, the child listens to the sound of the words.  So too with learning music.  A child recognizes the different sounds and pitch; as the child gets older, he / she they can distinguish between the different instruments, pitch, harmonies, as well as musicality (especially if there is a person(s) singing).

When interacting with music through clapping, dancing, marching, and so on, the child’s motor skills are developed and the child learns about spatial orientation, co-ordination, and understanding the body in space.

Another wonderful thing about learning to play an instrument, is that many times it involves being part of an orchestra, band or choir.  Teamwork, discipline and co-operation are quickly learnt, because you have to listen to each other, wait your turn, be on time (for practise, performance and when playing your piece of music), and work as a unit.

Even if your child doesn’t have any interest in becoming a musician, just giving him / her the opportunity to learn about it, not only widens the child’s knowledge, but also teaches music appreciation.  There are hundreds of adults today that appreciate good music.  As an ex-teacher myself, I can honestly say that learning to play musical instruments were not just a lot of fun, but it made me a well-rounded adult today!

Tip:  if your child doesn’t gel with the music teacher, don’t force the child to stay with that teacher.  Look for a new one, because often the teacher can make / break the child’s interest and/or love and appreciation of music.

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