The importance and benefits of music in early childhood

- Music as a way of knowing.

Music is not just an extra in a child’s learning experience. It is a core component of their early learning experience. It stimulates the brain and helps enormously in a child’s whole person development - physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually and spiritually. 

Early childhood is when children learn about the world around them through play. It is very important to offer children an enabling environment where they can participate in active music making and active listening. Through continual exposure to songs and vocal play, younger children develop their singing voices, their sense of rhythm and pulse. These are the cornerstone of not only music, but of language and spatial intelligence.

Children’s spontaneous music making, when observed and supported is at the heart of their musical learning. When parents and caregivers are actively involved from the outset, participating with a child in music making, they come to see musical activity as part of their daily routine. 

Much musical development happens before birth. It is well documented that listening and experiencing music stimulates the fetus' brain and assists with the growth of brain structures. The human fetal auditory system is functional around the 25th week of gestational age. By the third trimester babies are familiar and respond to the maternal voice. 

Studies suggest that babies remember music they listened to in the womb for up to four months after being born so getting your baby used to a soothing lullaby could be very useful for helping them sleep when they are born.

Even the youngest infant is wired to receive music and can discriminate among differences in frequency, melody and stimuli. Vocal range is remarkably wide from birth and infants can match pitch as early as three to four months old. 

All children are born ready, able and eager to learn. They actively reach out to interact with the world around them. Their development depends on their opportunities to interact in positive relationships and in enabling environments. 

Early conversations between adults and babies is often described as ‘sing song”.  Young children just love sound. And in fact hearing words being sung improves a child’s ability to distinguish linguistic patterns and develop auditory discrimination. Singing songs is a powerful way for young children to practice language. Crucially, singing automatically engage the inner hearing - perhaps the most important factor in the development of real musical ability. 

Inner hearing is the ability to hear musical sounds inwardly like the ability to do mental arithmetic or read a book silently. It is the working tool of the creative soul and of imagination.  

Research shows that exposure to music can improve a child’s ability to learn. This is because music is one of the few activities that uses both sides of the brain i.e the logical and the creative. Early music learning helps build important brain connections. The more connections we have, the faster we can think. 

Cat scans have shown that different aspects of music activate different parts of the brain. Half of the brain processes words, while the other half processes the music. So playing music games and listening to music helps children to use all these parts of their brains simultaneously. Music also stimulates the frontal lobes which are very important to both language and motor development.

When a child is having fun their brain is more open to learning. Singing songs is a powerful way for young children to practice language. 
Early years music classes offer a rich musical environment where children get the opportunity to listen to a range of musical sounds and play instruments. A nurturing environment sparks children’s individual curiosity and exploration. As they anticipate phrases and actions in familiar nursery rhymes and songs, they begin to experience a sense of unconscious learning. Music and movement instruction has been shown to improve children's memory, cognitive development, learning skills and expressive ability. 

Children also associate music with routines. This helps them to internalise patterns in songs, in a class, and in their daily lives. This is hugely reassuring for them as they become familiar with the songs and games and grow in confidence in their listening and singing skills. 

In a typical music class they are exposed to the key aspects of musical learning and development - 
Hearing and listening, vocalising and singing, moving and dancing and exploring and playing. This is an organic setting in which through active music making and listening, and with adult involvement this encourages more sustained musical play. 

Children explore and discover their own sense of pitch, rhythm and their own unique voice. Every child has the opportunity to express their own joy of music. 
The core music learning principles - pitch, rhythm and beat are explored through play. For younger children early music learning becomes, not only great fun, but has also been proven to develop: Fine motor skills, gross motor skills, language skills, social and emotion skills and imagination.

Creating and listening to music helps children learn numeracy, literacy and emotional skills. Other benefits include greater self-esteem and learning about sharing and turn taking. It also helps children to learn about emotions, and it can be soothing and comforting. The four elements of music – Melody, harmony, rhythm and dynamics are  introduced through songs and rhymes. All this unconscious learning through play is at the heart of early music learning pedagogy.

Often a single experience will open the young soul to music for a whole lifetime. This experience cannot be left to chance; it is our duty to provide it - (1929 from Selected Writings of Zoltan Kodály, Boosey & Hawkes, 1974).

Singaling® Copyright Susan Rowland 2019