Herald Journal Columns
Feb. 28, 2005, Herald Journal

Share the magic of music with children


Music is a very important part of our lives. We use music to communicate, stimulate, and to help children (and all of us) learn to relax.

Children listen to music in the dentist office, at home, in the car, and at school. Music can also be used to stimulate different parts of the brain.

Arlene P. Brown, in Better Homes & Gardens, Oct. 1999, noted that when Georgia Governor Zell Miller announced that every baby born in Georgia in 1998 would receive a cassette or CD of classical music, it made headlines.

The article on music therapy further noted that Miller had chaired a state education commission that concluded that music had a direct connection to brain development. There is research that suggests a strong correlation between exposure to classical music and intelligence, specifically the part of the brain used for math and spatial reasoning. The concept is often referred to as the “Mozart Effect,” named after the famous composer.

Dr. Phil, in his book, “Family First,” states that there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Mozart effect. Whether this effect is valid is uncertain, but we do know that music provides mental gymnastics through the learning of its symbol system, plus it increases creativity, Dr. Phil said.

And at birth, a baby’s brain has 100 billion neurons. While a baby’s brain contains all of the nerve cells it will ever have, the connections between the cells haven’t been established yet. It’s during the first critical years of life that the brain’s blueprint is established.

Sensory experiences, such as sound, sight, taste, and touch, encourage creation of pathways that carry impulses from cell to cell, creating a neuron network, the website, www.loveaby.com, said.

The website also noted that large numbers of doctors began hearing about music’s measurable effect on hospital patients in 1986, when the chair of the music therapy program at Florida State University, Jayne Standley, Ph.D., published a study in the Journal of Music Therapy.

One finding from the study revealed that premature babies in intensive care who were exposed to music were calmer and used oxygen more efficiently. The babies also gained weight faster and required shorter periods of hospitalization than babies who didn’t listen to music.

Some of the most promising research is being done with premature infants, the director of music therapy at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland said. In one study of infants with respiratory and feeding problems, Dr. Lane and her colleagues are finding that when babies listen to lullabies through speakers placed in their incubators, their heart rate and blood pressure go down and there’s a decrease in the number of “disengagement cues,” signs of distress they exhibit.

“Music therapy can create changes in a child’s behavior and facilitate development of her communication, social, emotional, sensory-motor, and cognitive skills,” board-certified music therapist and Maryland’s American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) spokesperson Judy Simpson said on the website, www.child.com

She further noted that music therapy, which may include having a child sing, play an instrument, or listen to music, has proven to be useful for children with conditions ranging from attention deficit disorder to cancer, as well as for those who require stressful medical tests or surgery.

Music therapy is available in many locations, such as schools, rehabilitative facilities, outpatient clinics, and hospitals. Hospital intensive care units, nurseries, and operating rooms across the country are playing music for patients.

Having worked in the area of special education, I can attest to the use of music therapy for children with disabilities. As mentioned above, it can include just listening to music and singing, and some children have this music therapy part of their regular structure and routine.

You don’t have to be in a hospital to gain the benefits of music. The fact of the matter is, positive music is good for everyone, from an infant falling asleep to her mother’s lullaby, to a teenager listening to some relaxing music to prepare mentally for a competition, to grandma listening to Lawrence Welk. Music is therapy for all of us.

Parents need time-outs too – time-outs from stress, and time-in to relax, regroup, and recharge so we are more emotionally, mentally, and physically available for our children, who require and need lots of our attention.

So parents, find a time and a place where you can sit comfortably and quietly, and find some music that helps you relax (I know it’s more easily said than done).

If you can, listen to music wearing headphones, the website www.loveaby.com notes. This intensifies the dimensions of the music and reduces external noise.

The website article further recommends closing your eyes. Take slow, deep breaths. Pause after each breath and picture yourself in a calm, peaceful place. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Who needs the Bahamas!

And as Dr. Phil said, whether the Mozart Effect is valid is uncertain, however, anything we do to enhance the creativity of our children is certainly worth doing.

If music is an interest for our children, we should encourage it. This will help promote memory and language development. The younger, the better, too, Dr. Phil notes. Research show that children as young as three years old who have had keyboard instruction and singing lessons scored higher on reasoning tests.

This music instruction also enhances their spatial-temporal reasoning, and helps children develop in other intellectual areas, such as math and complex reasoning. Even if children aren’t musically oriented, introducing music into their world may enhance many aspects of their academic performance.

Here are some other ways we can incorporate music into our children’s lives:

• Sing lullabies. Singing lullabies to infants also stimulates the development of brain connections, especially during the first three years of their lives.

My mother is a professional lullaby singer (she really could be). She has sung the same lullabies (with just different names) to her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren over the course of more than 30 years.

I can still hear the same tune in my head as I have listened to her, many wonderful times, sing her own lullaby tune to so many lucky children. I have no doubt that every baby and child that she has held and sung to, has benefited emotionally and mentally from her soothing, comforting, and loving voice and lap. She has put many babies to sleep feeling very safe and loved with her precious lullabies.

My mom now lives with my family and I – she is a part of our family, and she still sings those loving words to my infant daughter. And, I have continued her lullaby legacy and sing those same lullabies to my children.

• Turn off the television and turn on some music. My children, including my 11-month-old, love to listen to music, from the Beach Boys to Barney. Whenever my infant daughter hears music, she shakes her little head and moves her body to the rhythm. It’s wonderful to watch her. Music is powerful!

• When traveling, turn on music in the car or sing. It’s a beneficial activity that makes traveling time seem to go so much quicker.

• Sing with and to your children. Incorporate some instrument playing with singing. Homemade instruments are just as much fun. Beat on a drum (an ice cream pail), shake some maracas (film canisters filled with rice, pennies, etc.), or jingle some bells (bells strung through a pipe cleaner). Use your imagination. Children love using pots, pans and some safe utensils for instruments.

• Attend kid-friendly concerts with your children, such as school concerts. It demonstrates to children that music is important.

• Play soothing music at bedtime.

• Support your children if they show an interest in music – be it taking piano, guitar, or singing lessons, or singing in a choir, or playing in a band.

Have a great week and happy birthday, Dr. Seuss! Happy singing to all of you!