Saturday 8 September 2012

The Benefits of Music

~by Emi

Our home is all about the music.

Between my husband and I, we own an electro-acoustic guitar, a bass guitar, a 7-string electric, plus 4 other electric guitars. I play to an alright standard (defining 'alright' as able to play every chord except B's and F's because my fingers aren't strong enough!), and Stephen is the lead guitarist in a signed industrial metal band.

Add in Ru and Pixie's large box of musical instruments, and we have a whole raft full of eardrum-splitting noise makers.

Me, circa 2008 with my favourite guitar

We play music every day, ranging from the sweet soul that is Kate Rusby, a LARGE amount of country music, right up to ska and metal.

Stephen rocking out on stage...
We sing. All the time. Quite often, we find ourselves singing our conversations to one another. Imagine a conversation between Ru and I about what he wants to eat for breakfast but sung... crazily...

We love music.

It is so deeply embedded in the heart and soul of Stephen and I, and it's something that we want to share with our children as much as possible. We are eagerly awaiting our children being old enough to take them to music festivals. (Nothing better than live music!)

Like art, we believe that music is essential for the happiness of the human soul. Because of this, we try and incorporate it into our day in many, many ways.

Ru playing with a keyboard, aged 18 months
We play music from my laptop throughout the day, usually starting with some gentle folk in the morning, moving through several different genres over the course of the day. When we have to travel, we play music in the car.

We use music to change moods, to life unhappiness, to calm nerves, to soothe fractious babes.

We periodically sing and sign for Pixie, and have a daily living room disco.

We play with our instruments, to songs we adore and making up our own songs, tapping out beats, strumming guitar strings.

Stephen dancing with Pixie, aged 3 months

I grew up in a home filled with country music, Stephen with 60's pop, classical and 80's metal, and we both love sharing our favourite songs with Ru and Pixie.

What amazes me is that even from being very tiny, Ru especially has had very definite ideas about what songs he does and does not enjoy, retaining lyrics from those he loves. It's not unusual to hear him singing snippets of Ed Sheeran. What is it about certain songs that grab his attention? That do something to him that make him simply *have* to get up and move?

The other day whilst I was playing No Doubt, he stripped off his clothes. When I asked him why, he answered with "Because I *need* to be naked to dance to this song!" But why, Reuben?

"Because it makes me happy!"

Who am I to question logic like that?

As adults, we can approach music with a certain snobbery. We may only listen to a few specific bands, or songs from one time period or genre, thus limiting our exposure to the huge wealth of aural wonderfulness out there. None of those pre-set ideas exist with children. They take in everything we play to them, almost greedily feeling the beat, tapping feet, drumming hands against the table, bouncing, dipping, twirling. It's like they cannot control their reactions to it, that they simply *must* move with it, be a part of it. Every sinew and muscle echo the movement in the music.

We've all seen the stereotypical child at a wedding, dancing alone on the floor, blissfully unaware of everyone else, just enjoying the music, exploring the movement of their bodies.

Babies especially are perfect examples of the human's natural instincts towards music. Pixie will clap and bob and sway and laugh and smile and bounce, feeling every note. Music is an aural art and young children are aural learners. Since ears are fully mature before birth, babies begin learning from the sounds of their environment before birth. How many expectant mothers sing to their unborns? Have their partners talk to their bumps?

It's one of the most beautiful sights, watching Pixie or Ru dancing, unfettered and free. She doesn't know how much joy she is bringing me, how big a smile she's putting on my face with her adorable, uncoordinated little dance moves. Ru has no idea how much it means to Stephen when he theatrically spins around with a guitar, proudly telling me "I'm rocking out like Daddy!"

Aside from the fun aspect of music, there are so many wonderful developmental benefits to music. Learning an instrument, for example, teaches concentration, coordination, and self-confidence. Children who practice self-expression and creativity are often better communicators later in life.

Music is accessible to everyone. Simple shakers made from plastic bottles filled with rice are a staple in homemade instruments, along with pinging elastic bands wrapped around plastic tubs and hitting saucepans with wooden spoons. It is all around us.

In 1997, two studies found very wonderful things. Firstly, that children given piano lessons showed dramatic improvement in their spatial-temporal IQ scores (important for some types of mathematical reasoning) than those who had no lessons or received IT lessons. The second study explored the link between intelligence and music, and found that music training is superior to IT instruction in hugely enhancing abstract reasoning skills in children, the skills needed for learning maths and science. Both studies are echoed by Susan Hallam, at the Institute of Education, University of London. She states that 'Speech and music have a number of shared processing systems. Musical experiences which enhance processing can therefore impact on the perception of language which in turn impacts on learning to read.'

As if that wasn't enough, more and more studies are exploring the very real links between children with autism, ADD and epilepsy and increased levels of concentration and improved social skills when exposed to music.

And on top of all of this, with the vast amount of music available on sites like Youtube and Last FM, there is no excuse for your child to grow up not knowing who Queen is!

In life, you can never truly absorb everything there is to know.

Music is like that.

It is inexhaustible, there is always more to learn.

Please, please leave us a comment! What are your children's favourite songs? What gets them, and you, moving?

Additional Resources

Paul Borgese - 'The Mozart Effect: Fact or Fiction?'


  1. Chubby Checker - Twist Again

    Never fails!

  2. Interesting to read about the study if music and the development of learning, I learnt to read music before words as a child. Music was very much part of my life growing up. We now have a violin, piano and 2 guitars in our house along with a mass of percussion type instruments and everything else that my children find to use as a music instrument, often utensils from the kitchen drawer!

    We have been taking them to folk festivals all their lives we have just been to one over the bank holiday weekend, they both love live music.

    We listened to a huge variety of music, I not sure they could give me favourite each. At the moment we love the Putumayo CDs they have introduced us to music from all over the world, we love the one from the Cape Verde islands. If we have a project on the go I try and find music to fit in with it and we often listened to the relevant season from the four seasons during the appropriate season.

    We dance to music, often on loud, we play along we love it here too!

  3. Niamh at the moment is obsessed with "I like to move it" and the Fast Food Rockers "A pizza hut, a pizza hut..." etc. Trying to get her into B*Witched and S Club!

  4. i loved this post! i always played music to my bump and sang to it every night, then after oscar arrived, music was the magic that stopped him from crying. we have it on all of the time and are singing, whistling or humming throughout the day too. i have always loved music. my dad has been in two bands and is in the music industry too so i have grown up with a massive variety from marvin gaye, to bob dylan, sufjan stevens and madness. oscar has a music box with various smaller instruments and although i dont play, i'd love to learn because that must be such a lovely thing to be able to make music together. xxx