Children and Music: Benefits of Music in Child Development

An infant at a piano

Singing and music play an important role in our culture. You'll find music present in many aspects of our lives: theater, television, movies, worship, holidays, celebrations, and government and military ceremonies. At home, music can become part of our family cultures—a natural part of our everyday experiences.

From birth, parents instinctively use music to calm and soothe children, to express love and joy, and to engage and interact. Parents can build on these natural instincts by learning how music can impact child development, improve social skills, and benefit children of all ages.

Music and the Brain: The Benefits of Music

A 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that musical experiences in childhood can actually accelerate brain development, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills. According to the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMM Foundation), learning to play an instrument can improve mathematical learning and even increase SAT scores.

But academic achievement isn’t the only benefit of music education and exposure. Music ignites all areas of child development and skills for school readiness, including intellectual, social-emotional, motor, language, and overall literacy. It helps the body and the mind work together. Exposing children to music during early development helps them learn the sounds and meanings of words. Dancing to music helps children build motor skills while allowing them to practice self-expression. For children and adults, music helps strengthen memory skills.

In addition to the developmental benefits, simply put: music bring us joy. Just think about listening to a good song in the car with the window down on a beautiful day. That's joy.

Music Games for Kids of All Ages

Children of all ages express themselves through music. Even young infants sway, bounce, or move their hands in response to music. Many preschoolers make up songs and, with no self-consciousness, sing to themselves as they play. Children in elementary school learn to sing together as a group and possibly learn to play a musical instrument. Older children dance to the music of their favorite bands, and use music to form friendships and share feelings. Try these activities and games with your children to experience the pleasure and learning that music brings.

Infants and Music: Infants recognize the melody of a song long before they understand the words. Quiet, background music can be soothing for infants, especially at sleep time. Loud background music may overstimulate an infant by raising the noise level of the room. Sing simple, short songs to infants. Try making up one or two lines about bathing, dressing, or eating to sing to them while you do these activities. Find more musical learning activities for infants.

Infant Music Activity

The infant classroom at Bright Horizons at Wellesley participates in a music activity involving different instruments and singing in both English and Spanish. Visit our Wellesley, MA child care website.

Toddlers and Music: Toddlers love to dance and move to music. The key to toddler music is repetition, which encourages language and memorization. Silly songs make toddlers laugh. Try singing a familiar song and inserting a silly word in the place of the correct word, like “Mary had a little spider” instead of lamb. Let children reproduce rhythms by clapping or tapping objects.

Preschoolers and Music: Preschoolers enjoy singing just to be singing. They aren’t self-conscious about their ability and most are eager to let their voices roar. They like songs that repeat words and melodies, use rhythms with a definite beat, and ask them to do things. Preschool children enjoy nursery rhymes and songs about familiar things like toys, animals, play activities, and people. They also like finger plays and nonsense rhymes with or without musical accompaniment.

School-Age Children and Music: Most young school-age children are intrigued by kids’ singalong songs that involve counting, spelling, or remembering a sequence of events. School-age children begin expressing their likes and dislikes of different types of music. They may express an interest in music education, such as music lessons for kids.

Teens and Music: Teenagers may use musical experiences to form friendships and to set themselves apart from parents and younger kids. They often want to hang out and listen to music after school with a group of friends. Remember those days of basement and garage bands? Teens often have a strong interest in taking music lessons or playing in a band.

There is no downside to bringing children and music together through fun activities. We are able to enjoy the benefits of music from the moment we’re born. Although a good dose of Mozart is probably not increasing our brain power, it’s enjoyable and beautiful. From the pure pleasure of listening to soothing sounds and rhythmic harmonies, to gaining new language and social skills music can enliven and enrich the lives of children and the people who care for them.

More on Children and Music

Tired of hearing the same children’s songs played over and over again? Here are some music suggestions that are appropriate for both kids and adults.
Learn how music therapy can help develop a range of abilities in your child—not just “school skills.”
Try these fun activities with your baby to keep things interesting!
Discover how you can make the commute with your children more relaxed and enjoyable with music, stories, games, and activities.

Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

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Teacher reading to a toddler boy and girl

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