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Musical Brain Development

By Rachael Bartell

Research based on musical brain development has been conducted as far back as World War II. The Pilsbury studies (1937-1958) (Moorehead and Pond 1977) provided the first glimpse into a child's capabilities and greater outcomes because of musical development. Since that time there have been many more research studies conducted; discovering many possibilities and avenues for young children to grow musically and spatially. Research however, is still ongoing and therefore leaving open the number of possibilities available to your child due to early musical education. Yet still there have been many wonderful things discovered thus far (from as simple as teaching music as another language to children, to linking early music education as an opportunity for musical neurons to be connected.) Rachel Kramer, Assistant Executive Director for programs and conventions for music teachers national Association in Cincinnati, Ohio, believes that "Introducing music to children before the age of three would solidify the neural connections and that connecting these neurons would increase the spatial reasoning capabilities of a child." Other researchers feel the same way.

Many of the researchers also suggest that you don't just want to introduce your child to music by playing it on the radio. There is so much more potential to be achieved if you actually take a physical role in your child's musical development. According to Linda Acredolo PHD And Susan Goodwin PHD, who wrote "Baby Minds: Brain Building Games Your Baby Will Love", state that science has discovered that a baby's early experiences are the foundation that shapes the physical structures of the brain (vxiii). Because of these new experiences many more complex neural links are formed, therefore strengthening existing ones. Another way to strengthen the musical connections is to provide your child with a variety of musical environments. Introducing them to many forms and cultures of music will broaden their perspective of the music they are listening to. For example, music from a variety of sources generates activity in the babies "music" or auditory part of the brain. This activity stimulates the baby's complex circuitry, thus linking music to the other content areas.

When incorporating different musical environments you and your child will also grow together musically. In the book, "Bright Baby" by Richard C. Woolfson, he provides a plethora of ideas and activities to use when working with your child (pg. 95). Environmentally, however, one of his ideas just deals with the differences of music that you use to create a certain mood for the child. He believes that if you play a faster tempo of music then your baby will be encouraged to become more motivated to play and or work. It will get the child warmed up for whatever type of activity you are doing. While on the other hand if you were to play a softer, slower tempo of music you will help your baby to relax. By using this method you can get things done quicker during the day. For example, Woolfson suggests playing fun, soul or jazz music while cleaning the house to get your child motivated. But when it comes time to gear down, play something more relaxing like Baby Bach to calm your child. Also by listening to these different types of music you tap into another realm of musical brain development. According to Stan Wonderly, author of Learning Activities for Infants and Toddlers, listening to classical music develops listening skills, music appreciation and it improves the intellectual development of your child.

Other ways to stimulate your child's musical connections is to introduce them to the physical music benefits. Playing an instrument is just as wonderful as listening to music. A research conducted by Gordon Shaw from the University of California at Irvine and Frances Rauscher from the University of Wisconsin, discovered the possibilities of a structured music education class for preschool children. Their study was based around two groups of preschoolers. One group had 8 months of keyboard instruction as well as 8 months of group singing lessons. The second group had neither of these special classes, they only were taught the basic preschool music practicum. What they discovered after the 8 months was that, "Learning how to play a musical instrument (not just listening to), promotes a talent for solving spatial problems." These problems include mathematical principals with spatial overtones, for example fractions and ratios. The children who had the keyboard and music lessons also developed a better understanding of how to put puzzles together, how to use building forms with blocks, how to copy geometric shapes, how to solve mazes, and so on (Pg. 150-151). Correlations to these classes were the increased ability to work with whole notes to quarter notes, in relation to quarter notes to eighth notes. This concept gave students a sense of reality to the term "whole" in the more abstract realm of math.

Physical activity in regards to music seems to be the trend in musical development. After watching a series on TV the researchers promoted physical activity over all others. They believed that if you get your kids involved and you the parents participate with them then your child would build better physical coordination. Also they will have a better sense of timing, discipline, memory, imagination, self-confidence, a stronger sense for math and logic as well as a better emotional bond with the parents of the child.

In conclusion, early music education is the key to stronger mathematical minds as well as stronger musical brain connections. Beginning your child at the age of three will most definitely capture the optimal window for learning musically. Between the ages of 3-12 is when this development is vital. Goodwin and Acredolo believe that if a child hasn't been introduced to music by the age of ten then they may never develop as strong musically as others. "Adults can still learn to play an instrument, but they are unlikely to develop the solid neural foundations necessary to become virtuosos" (Pg. 15). Therefore introducing and promoting early child music interaction will benefit your child in a number of ways and those benefits will last throughout life. Leaving them as a more well-rounded human being set off for a great future.

Research Report: Musical Brain Development
By Rachael Bartell
ECE 424
Dr. Hill

Rachael Bartell

St. Martin's College


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