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The many benefits of exposing children to music

Music won't only strengthen your child's cognitive skills

Children singing with Rachel Buchman, head of the Young Children's Division, part of the Michael P. Hammond Preparatory Program at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University
The next time you have to apply some rubbing alcohol to your child's cut or scrape, try playing a little music. Researchers from both Canada and the United States found that music changes the way children view pain and  helps them deal with pain much better.

Study author Lisa Hartling and her research team examined 42 children between the ages of 3 and 11, who went to the hospital for an IV. One group of children listened to music while getting an IV and the other group didn't.

During each procedure, researchers measured the children's heart rate and perceived levels of pain. Afterwards, they found the children who listened to music did far better with the pain.

"We did find a difference in the children's reported pain. The children in the music group had less pain immediately after the procedure," said Hartling. "The finding is clinically important and it's simple intervention that can make a big difference. Playing music for kids during painful medical procedures would be an inexpensive and easy-to-use intervention in clinical settings."

Some might say if music can help lower a child's perceived sense of pain when getting an IV, it could help when you're trying to clean a cut, pull a tooth or do something else that will cause your child to scream and holler.

What else?

But what else can music do for your child? There have been many studies that suggest music makes children smarter. But is that entirely true?

Yes and no, says Dr. Diane Bales, author of "Building Baby's Brain: The Role of Music." She says music doesn't actually make people smarter, it helps the brain process information better.

"Children who grow up listening to music develop strong music-related connections," she wrote. "Some of these music pathways actually affect the way we think. Listening to classical music can improve our spatial reasoning, at least for a short time. And learning to play an instrument may have an even longer affect."

Yenth'l Isaac, a piano instructor and pre-K teacher, said playing music to your child can help him discover different cultures, and it can help build tolerance too.

"Sharing one's culture or tradition through music creates personal connections to one's native country," Isaac wrote. "It also creates connections with others by sharing values and beliefs with people through song. This sharing through music can be very important to instill at a young age to also teach tolerance and respect for others."

And Isaac says singing to a child is a great way to introduce music. Whether it's nursery rhymes or other songs, singing to your child is a great way for both of you to bond. And it'll help your child calm down and relax before bedtime too.

Sing along

But it's not only important to play music and sing to your child; your child should be singing along and joining in by clapping and dancing.

Lili Levinowitz, a professor of music education at Rowan University of New Jersey, said when children dance and sing along with music, it helps them interpret it better, which in turn helps them develop their cognitive skills even more.

Additionally, Levinowitz says it's important to play all kinds of music to children, because the more types of music they're exposed to the better off they'll be.

"Create an ear food buffet," said Levinowitz. "Children learn through juxtaposition of difference. They should be singing those songs in unusual tonalities. Other beneficial actions include singing along or chanting to songs that are in asymmetric meters and not necessarily inherent in the culture."

Introducing an instrument at an early age can help your child with speech development, experts say, because the brain processes notes and words similarly. 

"Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain's circuits in specific ways," wrote the Children's Music Workshop."

"Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds."

Jackie Harris, who's the director of the Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp, says parents should do all they can to keep music programs in schools, because music education is a necessity not a privilege.

"In this day in age school systems treat music education and the arts in general as a privilege. It is not, it's a necessity," she says. "Young people must be allowed the opportunity to express themselves in some type of arts medium."

More information for parents on bringing music into the live of children is available here

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