The human brain has a remarkable relationship with music. There are startling benefits to making music that enhance all aspects of the human experience. Highly respected neurobiologists at world class institutions continue to learn more about why music does such amazing things for our minds. But the bottom line is this: kids need to make music!
At dozens of world class research facilities all over the globe, there are studies that carefully investigate how music affects the human brain. All of them agree that music is a primal component to the overall health of our brains. It increases brain function, memory, focus, logic, and mathematical reasoning. In addition, music activates chemicals in our brain that create happiness, relaxation, calm, and an overall sense of well being. Singing loud and with enthusiasm lowers blood pressure and (get this!) strengthens core muscles. Music is, quite literally, the unsung hero (pun intended) of your child's development. While you focus on soccer and other physical activities, keeping your children hydrated and fed a nutritious diet, consider the astounding benefits that go along with learning to play an instrument. When I say astounding benefits, I am not exaggerating. Singing and creating rhythms and melodies have been part of human activity since prehistoric times. We are musical by design. Your newborn infant responds to your singing. Set aside your default response of "I don't sing well". Your baby doesn't know or care if you sing well. The act of hearing you sing literally lights up their brain with activity that helps it grow and develop. Please sing to your babies! Professionally recorded music does not provide the security and connection that your voice does for your child. It gives you a sense of connection to your baby as well. For a time, there was a theory that babies who listened to recorded classical music became smarter. It was called "The Mozart Effect". What researchers have learned since is that any style of melodic music (as opposed to rhythmic screaming with no melody) creates the same response. But here is the thing: when you sing to your own baby the result is something so special that it can not be duplicated any other way. It is rich with personal and primal connections. Grab hold of this perfect connection to your child's mind and heart. Early childhood development experts understand that when you hold your infant close to you and sing the child is getting more than just the advantage of music. They also learn your vocal patterns and hear your heart beat and have the security of knowing you are near. This is a gift that you and your child can share. It costs nothing and the gain is infinite. Researchers at Wake Forest University and University of NC at Greensboro found that trained musical conductors are much better at combining audio and visual learning cues than those who are not trained.
This means that they are adept at using more senses which enhances their ability to learn. They learn better, more completely and more readily, and they don't even realize it. This result is constant across the continuum of human learning. Young children also begin to develop these abilities with exposure to music training. I wonder why parents aren't lining up to get their children music lessons the way they line up to get them on sports teams? The cost is comparable, the time commitment outside the home is actually less, although the at home practice time is probably more.
Why do you suppose you hesitate to invest in your child in this way? I have a couple of personal theories, and I offer here some suggestions to help you be motivated to find a local music teacher or a baby music class in your area.
Our culture values sports figures over musicians. "Jason just played "Ode To Joy" with both hands!" doesn't get quite the same response from others as "Jason scored the winning goal and now his team is leading their league!". This speaks to what we value. We are a nation of sports fans and not so much of musical performance. Try this: Expand your own horizons as well as your children's. Learn to appreciate the effort it takes a young child to combine their brain, hands, sight, and listening skills in order to play the piano with their dominant AND non dominant hand. It takes a bit of skill. This should be admired.
It takes longer to achieve competence. Three year old children can do a pretty good imitation of playing soccer with just a bit of experience, but the same is absolutely not true of playing an instrument. Soccer can look and feel good pretty quickly. Certainly skills develop and strengthen over time, but a true beginner musician sounds like a beginner. The sound can be appalling. As a group, Americans are accustomed to nearly instant gratification and that is simply not possible when learning a musical instrument. Don't believe me? Go to a sixth grade band concert this Christmas. Just sayin. But hear me out! This challenge is part of the beauty of learning an instrument! Not everything is easy! Some things are hard! Music creation teaches this lesson so very well. Practice and perseverance and patience. The ability to assert these three things holds value throughout our lifetimes. All are learned beautifully through focus on music.
We chase the college scholarships we can get through sports. The myth of the athletic scholarship is pervasive. So many parents buy into the notion that their child will receive a free college education for being good at a sport. The truth is that only 1% of student athletes will receive this. For every genuinely talented soccer player that gets a full scholarship there are 99 equally talented players that do not. Think about this as you pour money into travel teams and private coaches while spending whole weekends in the car. Not only are the odds against receiving a substantial scholarship astronomical, your child is missing out on other activities that would help them be more well rounded. Add to this that there are millions of dollars of scholarship dollars floating around for musicians as well. Just food for thought.
No one in our family is musical. This may very well be because there is a generational prejudice against it in your family. Be the mold breaker! Let your child stand out from the rest! Expand the horizons of your entire family along with your child's. The foundational truth of human design is this: we are all musical. Our larynx is custom made to sing, our cadence is rhythmic as we walk, we have a natural tendency to clap, stomp, whistle, and hum. Our bodies are, quite literally, living and breathing musical instruments. They are beautiful and creative. Embrace this fact.
Please don't get me wrong: I'm not trying to discourage athletics. I myself am an avid hiker, kayaker, and an enthusiastic yogi. I also cycle, play tennis and work out. I'm outdoorsy and enjoy all the hours I spend in the woods. Keeping a body healthy, active and strong is vital. Team sports are fun and socially healthy. Unless they're not. And sometimes they're not.
But in my own life, every gift I offer to the Lord and to my community, every accomplishment I have ever enjoyed or taken pride in began with two skills: the ability to read and the ability to create music. My mother taught me both of these and everything of worth that I have ever achieved had its commencement in them.
Soccer typically lasts throughout adolescence, perhaps into early adulthood. The ability to play a musical instrument or to sing lasts for our entire lifetimes. The gift of piano playing very often transcends the ravages of Alzheimer's disease and other dementia that occurs with extreme old age. (85 years or more) Your child will never forget or regret that you encouraged them in this way. Playing an instrument takes time to learn but it is a source of joy for all of life. My ninety two year old mother-in-love was still playing the piano actively just two weeks before her death. Your children will remember how to play the instrument you encouraged them to learn long after their bodies leave the soccer field. Give the gift that literally lasts a lifetime! Grab your child and go make music!