Inside: Music and the brain are synonymous terms. Science tells us that involvement with music is an important activity for building the brain. It strengthens those areas of the brain associated with learning; thereby making the learning process more accessible for kids. Want to help a learning-disabled child or any child? Get them taking music lessons. It’s an insanely awesome way to build kids’ brains.
November 23, 1982. The air was crisp and cool. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. The perfect Norman Rockwell day in Southern California. And a “just what the doctor ordered” day to have a baby.
Like every mother about to give birth, I was hoping for an uneventful delivery. A few weeks before, my doctor announced he was going out of town and suggested if the baby wasn’t here by a certain date, he wanted to induce labor. He assured me that everything would be fine despite my baby being six weeks early.
But, the delivery was anything but fine. Brandon was too high in the birth canal. The forceps delivery went awry causing brain injuries.
The result: a son with severe learning disabilities.
A Challenging Child
Brandon was not an easy baby. Awake or asleep, he wanted me to hold him. Ear infections never cleared up. And daily doses of low-grade antibiotics did nothing to prevent them. He had significant language delays. We hired a speech and language therapist to help him. He was three.
At the age of five, he went through extensive testing. Eventually, SPECT scans (nuclear images of the brain) revealed various issues. Educational psychologists and therapists told us that because of the seriousness of his learning disabilities, it was unlikely he would graduate from high school and college was out of the question. We were told to brace ourselves for a rough-go so far as anything related to learning.
They were right—it was a rough go. Trying to help Brandon understand the basics was both discouraging and overwhelming.
But, if you have a child with learning disabilities, listen up:
DO NOT GIVE UP! THEY CAN LEARN!
And I’ll tell you why:
Music will make a difference. It did for Brandon and it will for your child, too.
Music and the Brain: Why Music Makes a Difference
As I researched different ways to help Brandon learn, I discovered that he, like so many children, loved and responded to music. So, I used different forms of music to help him learn:
- musical games & rhymes
- singing songs
- playing classical music while he was doing homework
- teaching him piano
I was convinced that parts of his brain, rather than malfunctioning, were in need of the kind of exercise that one gets from studying a musical instrument. It was true—music became the catalyst for him to learn and process information. Music is a vital part of the learning process for all children (learning disabled or not).
Because learning a musical instrument exercises the entire brain (left, right, front, back) simultaneously. And because of this, music makes the learning process easier and more accessible for kids.
Music and the Brain: 4 Ways Music Builds the Brain:
#1: Music and the Brain: Music Strengthens the Auditory, Visual, and Motor Areas of the Brain
These areas of the brain lay the foundation for speech and language, reading, math, and brain organization. Because music strengthens and exercises these areas, it is a way all kids can learn and learn easier. Scientific research shows that all kids involved in music have:
- Better language skills
- Better reading and math skills
- More organized
- Have better attention skills
- Do better on standardized tests
The best way to academically help any child is to get them involved with music. Think of it as brain aerobics.
Find group lessons, private lessons or school music programs. Check out your neighborhoods for teachers and programs. Kindermusik and “Let’s Play Music” are both excellent programs and offer lessons starting around 18 months of age.
Involvement in music will also help your child build friendships and learn important values.
Here is a chart breaking down how music strengthens the auditory, visual/spatial and motor areas of the brain:
Success With Music Lessons Can Be Slow
Don’t get discouraged if your LD child doesn’t immediately have success playing an instrument.
Brandon started group lessons at age three and it was extremely difficult for him to coordinate his fingers on the miniature keyboard. With time, he slowly improved. At age seven, I tried to enroll him in private lessons. No piano teacher would take him because he couldn’t remember where “middle C” was on the keyboard from one minute to the next.
So, I taught him myself. I color-coded the keyboard two octaves up and two octaves down. I colored his music to match. Then I pointed to the note on the music and to the key on the keyboard. Was it a painstaking exercise? Yes, but it worked. Over time, his spatial ability improved significantly. (see Anybody Can Play Piano for a similar program).
#2: Music and the Brain: Listening to Classical Music Helps with Memory (Auditory)
Certain pieces of classical music can change the way the brain processes information and help us absorb, retain, and retrieve information (all components of memory).
When your child listens to this music, the electromagnetic frequency of the brain changes thus allowing him/her to focus and concentrate better. Memory and retention of information will increase. This is especially important for LD kids who have difficulty concentrating, focusing, or staying on task.
Try playing Handel’s “Water Music” or Bach’s “Brandenburg’s Concertos” as background music while your children are doing homework. It takes approximately 15-20 minutes for this “learning mode” to kick in so play prior to starting homework tasks. I always played this music for my boys while they were studying. And, it works!
#3: Music and the Brain: Marching Organizes and Energizes the Brain (Motor and Visual)
If you notice your child acting sluggish, she/he may need a boost of energy. Marching will do the trick! Put on marching music and march around the house to the beat of the music (arms swinging and knees up high). Marching wakes up and organizes the brain, and gets it working on all four cylinders.
Because Brandon had difficulty staying on task in the morning, we turned marching into a game and everyone in the family participated. The boys woke up to marching music and all their morning movements incorporated marching:
- into the bathroom
- making their beds
- getting dressed
- marching to breakfast
- putting their backpacks together
Marching is similar to what crawling does for a baby—it organizes the brain and increases concentration and focus.
Incorporate marching into your daily routine: before you send your kids off to school or after school or before doing homework. Try: “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” or “Semper Fidelis” (John Philip Sousa). It’s a fun, energizing, and brain-boosting activity for all your kids.
#4: Music and the Brain: Rhythm Helps Kids Learn (Auditory, Motor)
Music is built on melody, harmony, and rhythm—with rhythm being the most important element of music. It is what helps us to recognize a piece of music and motivates us to tap our feet to the beat of the music. Singing or chanting spelling words or math facts to a repetitive rhythm helps kids learn and commit the information to memory.
- Find a piece of music or a nursery rhyme with a strong rhythm that your child enjoys.
- Remove the lyrics
- Sing along with the rhyme as you incorporate spelling words, math facts, geography or history facts.
There are some wonderful nursery rhymes with a strong beat that work. For younger children try:
- “Miss Mary Mack,”
- “The Lady with the Alligator Purse,”
- “Down by the Bay,” or
- “The Alphabet Operetta” by Mindy Manley Little.
For older children use rhythms found in rap music—eliminate the lyrics and using the repetitive rhythms clap out, beat out (with rhythm instruments), or sing out, multiplication tables, spelling words or history facts.
These are just four ideas of how you can incorporate music into learning. I include many more ideas in my book (Good Music Brighter Children) along with a 50-page Resource Section chock full of fun educational ideas, books, music, games, etc.
What Happened to Brandon?
Oh yes, what happened to Brandon? He graduated from high school, went on to college and graduated in Film and Philosophy…with a University G.P.A. of 4.0. And to this day, he still practices the piano and listens to music.
Music makes a difference.
What have been your experiences with music and your children? Have you found that your children and teens do better in school for being involved with music?> Would love to know your experiences! Please comment in the section below.
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