The Importance of Children Learning Music


In our modern age of cuts, the music and the arts are often the first to the chopping block. Generally, the reasoning behind learning music (or learning to paint, or learning to craft for that matter) has always been woollier than the reasons we should study maths and science.

Whereas maths and science have delineated ‘real world’ applications like engineering, architecture and surgery- which coincidentally are three great careers to get into- music and the arts are credited more with making us ‘well rounded’ and perhaps encouraging us to take up a hobby.

So why should children be made to learn music? Does it make them more ‘well rounded’? It turns out that there are some excellent reasons to keep music a part of the curriculum, and not just so that orchestras can have cellists and flute-players. Read on to find out why!


1 – Language development

Learning about music can have positive effects from a very early age, even before infants learn to speak. According to research by Sally Goddard Blythe, a consultant in neuro-developmental education, there is too much emphasis placed on reading and writing during the early years at the expense of the benefits of musical education. [1]

In her book, The Genius of Natural Childhood, Blythe argues that lullabies and nursery rhymes are ‘an essential precursor to later educational success and emotional wellbeing”. Explaining her idea, she wrote that “song is a special type of speech. Lullabies, songs and rhymes of every culture carry the ‘signature’ melodies and inflections of a mother tongue, preparing a child’s ear, voice and brain for language.’ [1] Indeed, both speech and music convey meaning through tone and rhythm.

Her study also suggests that rhymes and songs help develop both sides of the brain very early. ‘Neuro-imaging has shown that music involves more than just centralised hotspots in the brain, occupying large swathes on both sides,’ she wrote. This suggests that during the very early years, when the brain is still in effect being built and shaped, music could help stimulate critical areas to grow. [1]


2 – Music develops motor skills

Another way that learning a musical instrument can benefit children of young age is that it helps develop their fine motor skills. This is just as important as their cognitive development. Percussion is an excellent example of how to learn music (and a perfect option for high-energy kids) since it simultaneously requires the movement of the hands, arms, and feet. It is difficult for an adult to figure out how to do that accurately, so it will also be a challenge for children. Still, this sort of challenge is precisely what can help children to develop. [4]

Kristen Regester, Early Childhood Program Manager at Columbia College Chicago, put it this way: “It’s like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time,” and she isn’t wrong. Learning to play the violin or guitar, for instance, quite literally requires different actions from the left and right hands! This is great preparation for fiddly jobs in later life! This encourages coordination and even ambidexterity, but most importantly of all, improves fine motor skills.


3 – Music helps memory

Recent studies have also indicated that studying music can boost memory skills, both in artistic and more academic pursuits. In a study published by the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S., two groups of students underwent a ‘phonological memory task’- or in plain English, had to repeat back a list of digits, non-English words, or rapidly name a series of objects as quickly and accurately as they could. [3]

One of the groups underwent musical training as a part of their school’s regular curriculum; the other took part in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program. Both groups improved throughout the study, but the group which studied music improved more. Overall, those who studied music were reported to have reached adult cortical development before the other group. The reasoning is that during adolescence, the brain has not finished development.

This means that learning music can speed up the physical development of the brain. [3] This gives children who learn music an advantage over their peers, not just in music class but in all academic pursuits. This makes it all the more remarkable that music and the arts are the first subjects to be dismissed by critics; learning to play an instrument can improve performance in maths, science and chemistry but learning the periodic table won’t teach you to play the flute!


4 – Learning music builds confidence

Last but not least, music can help to improve self-confidence at all ages, although this is particularly important during the teenage years. Teenagers are well known for finding identity and community through the music they listen to, but the influence of music goes much deeper than was previously thought. In fact, it can lie at the very heart of self-image and encourage a positive attitude to life’s challenges.

Music therapy has been clinically proven to combat depression and improve self-esteem in both children and teenagers. The study, conducted by researchers at Bournemouth University and Queen’s University Belfast, focused on children between 8 and 16 years old. [2] According to the study, teenagers who underwent music therapy ‘experienced an improvement in communication and interaction skills, compared to those who received typical care alone.’ [2]

The CEO of Every Day Harmony, the brand name of the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust, recognised the importance of the study. She said that ‘[f]or a long time we have relied on anecdotal evidence and small-scale research findings about how well music therapy works. Now we have robust clinical evidence to show its beneficial effects.’ [2] While the study focused on music therapy, the findings could also indicate that learning an instrument in a non-therapeutic setting could nevertheless have similar effects.