Have you experienced how the stress and strains of a hard school/work day melt away when you listen to your favourite musical tracks? Listening to music has a calm and soothing effect on the body, slows down heart and pulse rate, and lowers blood pressure and stress hormone levels. While hearing music has palliative effects, encouraging children to learn to play a musical instrument not only reduces stress but enables their cognitive development.
In multiple studies conducted, and reports published around the world, it’s been clearly established that music education greatly aids the cognitive development of children. Children who learn music have higher IQs because music engages the left and right brain simultaneously.
A study conducted jointly by the University of Wisconsin and University of California at Irvine in 1997 indicates that three-four-year-olds with eight months of music instruction, including singing and keyboard lessons, averaged 43 percent more in IQ tests than children who weren’t signed up for music lessons. Similarly, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study reveals that the cerebral cortex of concert pianists is 30 percent larger than of acknowledged intellectuals without music education.
Likewise, a research study conducted by Susan Hallam in 2010 at the Institute of Education, University of London, concluded that students with formal music education tend to record higher academic scores in primary, middle and high school years.
Playing a musical instrument or singing a tune or even mere listening to music helps to reduce anxiety and depression in children and adults. A 2019 research study conducted by Florida National University found that students who studied while listening to ambient music reported reduction in stress and anxiety and improved concentration and brain function. Some common types of ambient music include orchestra and recorded sounds of waterfalls, birds, rain.
Numerous research studies have highlighted that violinists, saxophonists, keyboardists and other instrumentalists tend to have better concentration skills and and tend to be less aggressive, depressed and more equable than non-musicians. Music focus primes and prepares the human brain for heightened emotional arousal and concentration. Moreover playing a musical instrument triggers the release of dopamine — the ‘happy’ hormone which also controls body movement, memory, and focus.
“Music probably does something unique,” says neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday of the University of Westminster. “It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way because of our emotional connection with it.”
Music learning changes brain structure and function for good. Unlike any other brain stimulating puzzle or game, playing a musical instrument improves coordination and integration of the visual and tactical senses and motor movements. “Music reaches parts of the brain that other things can’t. It is a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does, and enhances things like working memory and language skills,” adds Loveday.
Dedicated learning and practice of music instils discipline and simultaneously develops children’s motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
I strong recommend you enroll your child in a music class in school or after school. The joy of learning music is a life-changing experience.
By Tanjua Gomes, co-founder and co-CEO of the Mumbai-based Furtados School of Music