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Informal Music Making Improves Child Development, Research Suggests

two children playing music

There’s a lot of pseudoscience and controversy around the ‘The Mozart Effect’, particularly when it comes to the notion that parents can turn their children into high-functioning geniuses simply by playing them classical music at a young age (or even in utero.) Similarly, the efficacy of products such as The Baby Einstein range have long been under dispute.

But while Brahms’ serenades may not be a magic bullet which can dramatically increase a baby’s potential IQ, that’s not to say music can’t be a hugely positive factor in a child’s later development.

Far from it. In fact, new evidence has just emerged which strongly suggests that bonding with your child over music may be even more beneficial than doing so over regular reading sessions.

There’s already an established trend across numerous studies to show that those who learn an instrument exhibit an improvement in IQ – along with other benefits, both mental and physical.

This applies to both adults and children alike, but so far studies have focused almost exclusively on participants taking regular violin lessons and other formal music classes.

Lesser known still is exactly how musical play sessions play into childhood development.

A new study, however, has made some decent headway.

The Power of Music in Early Development

Conducted by the University of Queensland, it found that even just jamming with your kid during play time can have hugely positive impact that pays off just a couple of years later (and presumably beyond.)

The study was a big one. Working with parents of over 3,000 kids between the ages of two and three, the families took part in regular, informal music lessons at home – simply having fun making music as part of playtime.

Two years later, the progress of the children was followed up.

Turns out that shared musical activities in the home can pay dividends in the long run. There was a strong trend of positive benefits among the kids participating in the study, including an increase in:

  • Attention longevity
  • Pro-social skills
  • Numeracy
  • Emotional regulation
  • Vocabulary

All pretty good areas for improvement, especially given they can be attained by just incorporating musical free-for-alls into playtime.

Of course, the fact that bonding over playtime has a positive influence on a child’s development isn’t particularly surprising. But as mentioned previously, what was surprising is that home music activities were found to be even more effective than joint book reading.

Improvements were reported by both parents and teachers, and later on measured directly by the researchers. While the study was Australian-based, controls were implemented to factor for cultural and demographic differences.

All fairly groundbreaking stuff, and it’s research that went on to win the research team a Music Trust Award for Research into the Benefits of Music Education.

baby playing music

But what parents of young children will really want to know is how to recreate these effects at home.

Here’s the low-down.

Implementing Music into Play Time

Violin classes and the like can be hugely beneficial later on in a child’s development, but as the study revealed, it’s the informal musical play earlier on that paves the way:

  • Ditch toys that bleep and flash in favor of inexpensive, tactile musical instruments like bongos and other percussion instruments, followed by a toy piano or recorder later on. That said…
  • Save yourself some money by raiding the kitchen cupboard. A pot and a wooden spoon is as effective as anything you can buy at a store, and far better than sitting them in front of a DVD.
  • Don’t focus on a specific goal. Chaos is good! As long as the child is having fun exploring the process of making sounds, you’re doing a good job.
  • It needs to be a shared experience in order to be effective, so block off some time to join in with musical play. It doesn’t need to be strictly regular, simply whenever you get the impression there’s some energy to burn off.
  • If possible, try to face your child during the play session as this helps with the social bonding aspect of the exercise.
  • They’ll learn structure and focus at a later date when undertaking piano or violin lessons; for now, simply encourage your toddler to enjoy making noise (even if they insist on playing the instrument in an unconventional way.)

kids playing violin on stage

Alongside all of the benefits to be had in your child’s development from shared musical activities, you’ll know doubt come to enjoy these bonding sessions as a parent.

In short, bring out the pots and pans, and makes some noise.

It’ll pay off in the long run.

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5 Golden Rules for Encouraging Kids to Learn Violin

girl playing violin

Let’s be perfectly honest here – kids aren’t typically known for their patience and discipline, which makes the prospect of encouraging them to stick with violin lessons a daunting one.

However, there are some tried and true methods to getting little ones to not only regularly attend lessons, but to enjoy regularly attending them too.To boot, there’s a lot to gain – it has long been established through study after study that those who learn to play an instrument at a young age tend to do significantly better on standardized tests and go on to have a higher IQ.

So, how best to encourage them to stick with the violin lessons and reap the rewards?

Here’s five great ways to set them on the right path.

  1. The Right Teacher is Vital

This cannot be understated enough: a good violin teacher who is personable and genuinely cares about your child’s progress is worth their weight in gold.

Moreover, it’s the ability to know how to get the very best out of a young student on an individual level that separates a good violin teacher from a great one.

  1. The Right Music Also Helps

Despite how much we want to hear it, it’s a fact of life that no kid wants to learn how to play Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

Forcing them to endlessly recite and memorize music that they neither know nor care about is a quick path to a loss of interest, so make sure they’re mentally stimulated and have input into the songs they’re learning… after all, learning the violin should be fun and it will be more rewarding for the child when they master a piece that they wanted to learn in the first place.

  1. Encouraging, Not Overbearing

As your child progresses with their violin lessons, you’ll often find that they’re rightfully proud of their achievements and are keen to show off. Other times, they’ll show little to no interest in practicing.

Take the rough with the smooth. Celebrate all their great progress with them, but at the same time, don’t demand it – you’ll only breed resentment.

  1. Ask Questions

Kids love showing off their new found knowledge, so take an active interest in what they learned in each lesson and ask questions about their instrument and what they’re working on. It can also help to ask questions about their frustrations and help them figure out mental blocks together as they come up against walls, too.

  1. They’ll Perform Publicly When They’re Ready

A good violin teacher will never force an unconfident child to perform outside of their comfort zone, and neither should a parent (and that includes ogling a shy kid to show grandma that thing they were playing flawlessly on their own.)

As we all know, children will not perform if they don’t want to. But rest assured that this confidence will come in time, especially if all of the above tips are put into practice. Good luck, and keep it fun!

For further reading on how playing an instrument benefits your brain please check out this article here.
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