Research articles related to music education for young children


This wonderful TED Video shows how playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full body workout. It engages practically every area of the brain at once. 

Many high achievers in their various fields believe that their success can be directly attributed to skills attained through their own music education.  Is Music the Key to Success?  NY Times

Nobel medicine winner says: I owe it all to my bassoon teacher.  ArtsJournal

NEURAL DEVELOPMENT: A study of children 5-7 demonstrates that musical training results in more connections (neurons) forming between the right-brain and the left-brain.  Researchers looked at images of the brains of the children before assigning them to one of three groups: high-practicing, low-practicing, and no music instruction. There were no differences in left-brain, right-brain connections prior to the musical instruction. However, after two years of musical instruction and practice, these children had more connections than children not given musical instruction.  The children assigned to the high practicing group had the most number of connections.  Schlaug G, Forgeard M, Zhu L, Norton A, Norton A, Winner E. Training-induced neuroplasticity in young children. The Neurosciences and Music III: Disorders and Plasticity. Ann NY Acad Sci. 2009;1169:205-8.

"I would teach children music, physics and philosophy, but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the key to learning." - Plato

How Music May Make Babies Team Players   NY Times

Musical training may reduce the effects of memory decline and cognitive aging. Emory

According to this study from Berlin, musical training during childhood and adolescence increases cognitive skills and school grades to a much larger degree than alternative activities such as sports, theater, and dance.  Adolescents with musical training were also found to be more conscientious, open, and ambitious.  How Learning a Musical Instrument Affects the Development of Skills.

Research shows that instrumental training that begins before the age of 7 boosts motor skills.

Excellent graphic showing the many benefits of music education.   Music Empowers

Music educators have long believed that one of the best ways to teach rhythm is through movement. We’re now seeing the science behind this concept come to light. Dr. John Iversen, researcher at UC San Diego (and a long time drummer), is doing studies that suggest the perception of rhythm involves not just the part of the brain that processes sound, but also the part of the brain that controls movement.  Yes, there’s a reason we jump, run, skip, twirl, and shake instruments in class.   Each way we can comfortably move our bodies relates to corresponding rhythms we can more accurately produce.  It’s exciting to see the science developing that shows this connection!



The National Association for Music Education issued a comprehensive report sponsored by the U. S. Department of Education.   Of note "... providors of early childhood education need to identify and create ways that enable music to be treated as a basic and integral part of every young child's education."  and "Both teachers and care providors must be encouraged to provide quality music instructions to all children."    NAFME report. 

Immersion is the most effective way to learn a new language - and that includes learning the language of music! One of our primary goals at The Music Class is for parents and caregivers to find time every day to interact musically with their child to create that immersive environment. Here’s a stellar example - Rhythm patterns while making bread!    

BENEFIT OF INTERACTIVE MUSIC CLASSES ON INFANTS:  Researchers at McMaster University in Canada found that infants who participated in parent/child interactive music classes had a better understanding of music and improved social development compared to infants who listened to background music only.

In the first study of its kind, researchers assigned 6-month old babies to one of two types of musical experiences. In one group the babies participated in a parent/child interactive music class involving singing, movement, instrument play and a take home CD. (Sound familiar?) In the other group the children listened to music from Baby Einstein CDs in the background while involved in art and play activities, and received the same CDs to take home and listen to. At 12 months, the babies who participated in the interactive music class showed a greater understanding of tonal pitch structure and an enhanced response to music than the babies who listened to background music. In addition, they showed less distress in unusual situations, communicated better and smiled more!  Trainor et al. 2012. Becoming musically enculturated: effects of music classes for infants on brain and behavior. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1252:129-138


At The Music Class we know that exposing children to sophisticated musical content when they are very young will enable them to understand and be able to perform that content when they are older.  Of course, some children simply can't wait. Caught on video here is Alexa, not quite 2 years old. At first she is too excited to sit still. Then she focuses and starts clapping in beat to a chant in 7/8 time. Way to go Alexa!  

Babies remember music they heard in the womb.  MailOnine

INFANTS DETECT THE BEAT IN MUSIC: A 2009 study showed that newborns can process music even if they don't show an outward response.  Researchers played consistent percussive rhythm patterns and then occasionally changed the pattern for newborns who were sleeping.  The newborns were able to detect the change! How do we know? Tiny sensors on the surface of their heads were able to detect a change in their brain waves.  Winkler, I., G. Haden, O. Ladinig, et al. Newborn; infants detect the beat in music. Proc. Natl. Acad.Sci. 2009; 106: 2468-2471.  


MOVEMENT INFLUENCES INFANT RHYTHM PERCEPTION: In this study, seven month-old Infants were bounced to a specific beat (either in duple or triple meter). Afterward they paid attention longer to music with the same beat they were bounced to.  Infants that listened to the same music but weren't bounced did not show a preference for either type of beat. This demonstrates that infants of this age can perceive the beat more readily if bounced to it.
Phillips-Silver J, Trainor LJ. Feeling the beat: Movement influences infant rhythm perception. Science 2005;308:1430.


ENVIRONMENT EFFECTS BRAIN DEVELOPMENT:  Nobel prize winning research by doctors David Hubel and Tortsen Wiesel of the Harvard Medical School found that if a healthy kitten or monkey was raised with one eyelid sutured closed during the first few months of its life, the animal would be permanently blinded in that eye.  This research from the 1960's documented the fact that the brain is not fully developed at birth. Instead brain development continues during the first years of life and the environment directly effects that development.
Kandel E, Schwartz J, and Jessel M.  Principles of Neural Science.  Appleton & Lange 1992


USE IT OR LOOSE IT CONCEPT: Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle compared language perception between Japanese and American infants. They investigated the ability of these infants to distinguish between the sounds of R and L.  (R and L are both used in English, but there is no L sound in the Japanese language, only R.)  They found that at six months of age English and Japanese infants could equally distinguish between R and L sounds.  By 12 months, the Japanese children had lost the ability to distinguish the difference between R and L sounds. Meanwhile, at 12 months, the American children had become better at hearing the difference between the two sounds.

How does this relate to music?  This study exemplifies how quickly and dramatically the human brain is developing during the first year of life.  During the first six months the brain is receptive to all sounds.  By the second six months the brain is already prioritizing: discarding the ability to distinguish sounds that are not part of its environment, and reinforcing the ability to distinguish sounds that it hears regularly. 

Since music and language are both sound based, one could hypothesize that a similar process occurs with music.   Exposure to a wide variety of musical sounds and adequate repetition of those sounds between the ages of six and twelve months may have a lasting impact on the brain’s ability to perceive those sounds.  Lack of musical stimulation during this sensitive time may make it more challenging for the brain to understand musical sounds in the future.
The Secret Life of The Brain. Richard Restak, M.D. The Dana Press and Joseph Henry Press, 2001

My two-year old just LOVES to dance to the Music Class songs. Every time we pass the Music Class studio he yells "Music class! I want to go to music class!"
C.J. Atlanta, GA

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