Whether your child is the next Beyonce or more likely to sing her solos in the shower, she is bound to benefit from some form of music education. Research shows that learning the do-re-mis can help children excel in ways beyond the basic ABCs.
Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. “A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music.
Making music involves more than the voice or fingers playing an instrument; a child learning about music has to tap into multiple skill sets, often simultaneously. For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles, says Kenneth Guilmartin, cofounder of Music Together, an early childhood music development program for infants through kindergarteners that involves parents or caregivers in the classes.
“Music learning supports all learning. Not that Mozart makes you smarter, but it’s a very integrating, stimulating pastime or activity,” Guilmartin says.
“When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development, which is so important at that stage,” says Luehrisen. While children come into the world ready to decode sounds and words, music education helps enhance those natural abilities. “Growing up in a musically rich environment is often advantageous for children’s language development,” she says. But Luehrisen adds that those inborn capacities need to be “reinforced, practiced, celebrated,” which can be done at home or in a more formal music education setting.
According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. “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. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds,” the group claims.
This relationship between music and language development is also socially advantageous to young children. “The development of language over time tends to enhance parts of the brain that help process music,” says Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a practicing musician. “Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.”
A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, as published in a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, found a small increase in the IQs of six-year-olds who were given weekly voice and piano lessons. Schellenberg provided nine months of piano and voice lessons to a dozen six-year-olds, drama lessons (to see if exposure to arts in general versus just music had an effect) to a second group of six-year-olds, and no lessons to a third group. The children’s IQs were tested before entering the first grade, then again before entering the second grade.
Surprisingly, the children who were given music lessons over the school year tested on average three IQ points higher than the other groups. The drama group didn’t have the same increase in IQ, but did experience increased social behavior benefits not seen in the music-only group.
Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a nonmusician. “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity........ Continue Reading
By the time you read this, I’m afraid, it’ll be too late to attend the Christmas concert of the community choir to which I’ve belonged for a while now. I know, I know, you’re gutted. But maybe it’s better that way: the weekly rehearsals have become such an oddly transporting highlight of my week that it almost feels too personal to mention in public. I’m not alone in this, I realise. These days, with amateur singing exploding in popularity, there’s no happiness advice less original than “Join a choir!” So it’s strange that we still don’t really understand why it feels so good.... Read the full article
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Illustration: Thomas Pullin for the Guardian
Warwickshire Music Hub is leading two exciting singing projects this year. The first is a partnership with Ex-Cathedra, supported by funding from Arts Council England. This partnership involves 11 primary schools and around 2,000 children and adults; culminating in a singing day at the University of Warwick Arts Centre on March 11th.
The second project is a partnership between Warwickshire Music Hub, Coventry Music Hub and 4 secondary schools, supported by funding from Youth Music. This project is creating a choir of 100 young people, ideally who are not used to singing in choirs, with the focus of two major performances in 2016.
By definition projects such as these, supported by external funding, are created with very definite start and finish dates and clearly quantifiable objectives i.e. how many children are involved and what rehearsals/events are due to take place. This is all very worthy and very exciting for those involved.
But the big question has to be - what happens next? All too often these excellent projects simply stop once the money runs out because they are time limited. Our challenge is how to create a more lasting legacy and the reality is that money is needed, whether through further funding or sponsorship or simply creating new groups that require membership fees.
Getting the balance between time limited funded projects and creating something that lasts is a challenge - but one that is really worth exploring. The planning has to consider the future and what structures - in this case choral - are already in place.
The primary school project 'Singing Playgrounds' should embed singing within the participating schools but that cannot be taken for granted and so discussions need to take place with the participating schools to see what support they might need to continue the positive outcomes of the project.
The secondary school project is called the 'Joint Choir Creation Project'. Wouldn't it be great if the legacy was to actually create a brand new choir that met regularly after the project itself comes to an end? At the very least the young people involved deserve the option of continuing to sing; whether as part of a school based group or within a singing strategy created by the respective Music Hubs.
This is where working in partnership with schools and other Hubs is potentially so powerful. The reality of creating lasting legacies is that all too often they are reliant on external funding. Our challenge is to create internal structures that are self reliant; and this starts with partnerships.
Number one - make sure the Musical Director is a genius. Fortunately the MD of the Warwickshire Choristers is one. Number two, create an organisation where the parents are totally committed and supportive. Number three, remember that boys are not girls and they need a unique approach to rehearsals and concerts. Number four, work incredibly hard.
Garry Jones is a genius. He is a great friend of mine and a former Director of Warwickshire County Music Service. Since he retired from that job he has been working virtually full time creating the Warwickshire Choristers and, more recently, the County Male Voices; an equally excellent choir made up of all the boys that started singing with Garry 6 years ago.
The Choristers have been in the final of Music for Youth 5 times in the last 6 years and have received Choir of the Day in every BBC Choir of the Year competition since reaching the televised final in 2010. They produce CDs, go on tour and have featured on radio as well as television. They regularly perform at major concert venues including Symphony Hall in Birmingham, Truro Cathedral, Westminster Cathedral and the University of Warwick Arts Centre.
It is perhaps two things that stand out for me as I watch and admire Garry at work. A concert last night is a good example. The care he takes over the choice of repertoire for the boys is extreme - but utterly worth while when you hear them. Yesterday's concert started with a sublime rendition of Ubi Caritas by Albrecht. The pure young voices of two solo choristers soared around the Parish church of Leamington Spa and set the tone for the rest of their performance; including music by Jefferson, Poulenc, Frank and Schwartz.
The boys, aged between 7 - 12, perform music that you would not think they have the maturity to manage. Le Chien Perdu by Poulenc was simply sensational; unaccompanied and without a conductor.
The reason they can do this is because of the unique relationship that Garry builds with them. This is developed in no small part by his rehearsing style. I have sat in many rehearsals and it is not unusual for Garry to spend up to 10 minutes on one sound. The boys come into a choir where excellent is simply taken for granted and the hard work needed to achieve that is there for all to see.
County Music recently ran a very exciting programme to develop language skills through singing. We worked with children in nursery and reception (ages 3-4) and alongside their teachers. The children were put into small groups and taught songs and exercises. These songs and exercises were very carefully chosen to develop their listening and visual skills as well as teaching them specific vowel and consonant sounds suggested by their teachers.
There is plenty of evidence to support the use of singing to develop language skills within children. 'Parents should sing to their children every day to avoid language problems developing in later life', according Sally Goddard Blythe, a consultant in neuro-developmental education and director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology.
Singing traditional lullabies and nursery rhymes to babies and infants before they learn to speak, is 'an essential precursor to later educational success and emotional wellbeing', argues Blythe. 'Song is a special type of speech. Lullabies, songs and rhymes of every culture carry the 'signature' melodies and inflections of a mother tongue, preparing a child's ear, voice and brain for language.' The Guardian Newspaper 2010
'Singing songs teaches children about how language is constructed. When you sing, words and phrases are slowed down and can be better understood by your baby. Singing regularly will help your baby to build up a vocabulary of sounds and words long before they can understand the meaning'.
BBC CBeebies site 2014
The case for singing as the right approach to children with special needs is made by Dr. Michael Heggerty, an expert on literacy. 'How do teachers reach students with special needs that are included in their classroom? Music is a tool that is developmentally appropriate, facilitates language fluency, helps brain development and, above all else, is joyful’.
The Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Centre 2010
The first results from our Early Years Language Development programme are encouraging. One of the many interesting observations was that the behaviour of the children in the singing sessions was different to that in the class situation. Teaching staff were able to watch and really observe how the children formed their sounds. The school has requested a continuation of the project and other schools are also interested in exploring the use of singing to develop language skills. We intend to work closely with Teaching Schools in the area to offer training programmes for colleagues working with Early Years and we anticipate considerable demand.