Music is that international language of love that we all understand. Unlike spoken words which can be arranged into thoughtful sentences framing poignant messages, songs hit your heart first and you feel the words before you comprehend them. This is perhaps the one common thread that we humans have, aside from the need to breathe, sleep and eat, that binds us as one people living on a vast planet.
Musical introduction to children at young ages has been shown to provide a number of remarkable benefits. The intuition that parents have to play soothing music to calm a baby, or as a distraction, comes easily. We naturally sing words in drawn out high-pitched measures meant to grasp their attention. And how cute is it watching a diapered wee one bop to the beat of a catchy tune, dancing when they can barely walk? Studies show that while all of this is certainly endearing, music also has the potential to greatly affect a child’s growth and development.
According to Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, “Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.” Additional studies indicate nursery rhymes help children with memorization skills providing the foundation for good study habits later on. According to a 2004 study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto, after just nine months of piano and music introduction, a small increase of the IQ in six-year-old children who were participating was observed. The study also included children who were exposed to drama lessons and children who were not participating in music or drama. Even though the two latter groups did not score as high on the IQ test as the musical children, the study confirmed that any introduction to the arts is better than none, as the drama students did exhibit improved social behaviors after participating in acting classes.
The plight to keep the arts alive and thriving in the schools continues as music, art and theater programs are constantly placed on the chopping block to trim budgets with dwindling funds. There are always private music lessons and options that parents with means can provide to their children. It’s sad, though, to think of kids who have a special aptitude toward the piano or drums, those kids who are tapping out rhythms and putting chords together by ear, will miss out on music education because their schools no longer offer the programs. And if music is the fabric that binds us, then it’s not just the talented kids missing out, it’s a significant portion of today’s youth who, by all accounts, need outlets for understanding more than ever.
Growing up in a small town and attending a Class D school, which basically meant I was going to graduate with less than 30 people in my class, also meant we missed out on some of the extra-curricular activities larger schools had. But what we did have was a music program headed by somewhat of a rock star when it came to band teachers. Year after year our band director churned out bands that won the highest ratings possible and soloists whose fine musical reputation still resonates today. In hindsight, I think of the impact musical education had on so many of us who learned to win gracefully (we rarely lost to competing school bands), learned how a complicated piece of music could be broken down one note at a time so it was manageable. We saw how working hard independently made us stronger as a group. It gave us somewhere to be on a Friday night, marching on the field at halftime, rather than getting into trouble in other ways.
So the next time your young neighbor comes around selling candles or magazines so they can attend a band competition, consider opening your wallet. And when it comes time for school board elections all the way up the line, be sure to see where the candidates lie on educational matters, particularly the arts. Here’s to the music makers, music teachers and the music lovers in all of us.
Photo credits: First Notes by Pedrobonatto on Flickr, commercial use allowed
Southern California Division, Jr Music Camp 2012 by Salvation Army USA West on Flickr, commercial use allowed