Inside: Do you know that playing a musical instrument is the only thing we do that exercises the entire brain at once? Here are 6 music programs with super brain powers that will improve learning in all children. If you’re looking to strengthen the auditory, visual and motor cortices of the brain…here’s what you need to do.
School is winding down. Parents and kids are getting ready to launch into the “lazy-days-of-summer.” But educators are worried. They know that during the summer, kids will forget a chunk of information learned in class over the past 9 months. When they return to school in the fall, teachers will spend the first two months reviewing everything students forgot during those hot sunny days.
Parents…ask yourself, “What can I do to help my child retain what he/she has learned in school this year?”
There are many worthwhile summer programs that will get your kids moving and participating in fun and educational exercises. But some programs outweigh others when it comes to brain-building activities. For instance, nothing beats music lessons for strengthening the brain and helping your child retain information.
If your kids take music lessons or are involved in specific music programs during the summer, when they start back to school in the fall, their brains will be in tip-top shape! (but don’t stop the lessons–keep them going).
As I’ve said in previous blogs, music is the only activity we do that exercises the entire brain—left, right, front, back portions—simultaneously. Learning a musical instrument is giving the brain a major aerobic workout.
And, it’s just what the teacher ordered to safeguard retention of information during the summer.
Music Programs that Will Build Your Brain
There are music lessons and music programs. Both are similar in that you are studying music.
Music lessons usually mean your child is learning a musical instrument and taking traditional lessons from a private teacher.
Music programs can mean several different things:
- Your child is learning a musical instrument using a specific method (Suzuki) taught by a private teacher or in a group.
- Your child is engaged in different aspects of music (singing, movement, rhythm instruments, etc.) under the umbrella of a particular music program (Let’s Play Music, Orff-Schulwerk, Kodály, etc.). These are usually taught in group settings.
Participation in many of these programs starts at 18 months. Some are mommy-and-me. The emphasis is on musical games, stories, singing, and movement. As the child gets older, lessons become more sophisticated as they learn to read notes, understand intervals, notation, and even learn how to compose music.
Music programs, music lessons all translate into children who are better at reading, writing, math, language arts, spelling, vocabulary, memorization and more.
The reason is simple. All music lessons and music programs build the three areas of the brain necessary for learning:
- auditory cortex
- visual/spatial cortex
- motor cortex
Let’s look at these areas and how they are influenced by music and how they increase learning.
Brain-builder #1: Auditory Cortex
Specific Areas of Learning: Reading, Vocabulary, Speech and Language
Do you know that the auditory cortex of the brain is five times smaller than the visual cortex? It’s already established in the brain that we learn quicker and easier by visually looking at something.
But here’s the rub: when your child learns to read, she/he must use their ears first, (auditory cortex) and their eyes second (visual cortex). Think back when you were learning to read. All those letters on the page looked like Greek and it wasn’t until your teacher said the word, and you used your ears, that you understood how to say the word.
The rule for reading is: ears first to hear the pronunciation of the word and eyes second to visually recognize the word.
From various brain scans, scientists know that learning a musical instrument strengthens all areas of the auditory cortex thereby making it easier for your child to read, listen, understand speech and language, learn vocabulary words, and process information in the classroom and elsewhere.
It also helps a learning-disabled child as all learning issues begin with auditory processing, or not being able to process what is heard.
Music Programs that Target Auditory Learning:
Kodály is a group music program that develops and strengthens the auditory cortex. Incredibly so! Kodály will train your children to sing with perfect pitch without the aid of an instrument. It’s called solfege and it takes practice.
While singing they will also learn certain hand signals that reinforce learning. It’s called Curwen. This training builds the auditory cortex thus improving reading, listening, and processing information.
Because Curwen involves hand-movement, the motor areas of the brain are also strengthened
Kodály also helps with memory skills as your child learns different songs with different rhythms. Aural or listening skills are developed as he/she listens to the varying pitch, rhythm, and harmony of a multitude of songs.
This singing method is an impressive brain-builder! Look for programs in your neighborhood.
I used to belong to Organization of American Kodály Educators (OAKE). The skill level of children singing using the Kodály method is mind-blowing. You can understand why their auditory systems are so keenly developed and sophisticated when you watch them sing with perfect pitch and no accompaniment.
This program also targets the auditory cortex as your child is required to carefully listen in order to imitate what he/she hears. It can be a private or group program.
Suzuki was founded by Shinichi Suzuki in Japan. He believed that given the proper musical learning environment, all children could learn and reach their potential.
His approach to teaching music is based on how children learn a language. First, they listen to the sounds (auditory) and then they try to imitate those sounds. Eventually, they mimic words, then phrases, and finally whole sentences.
Using this same method in music, Suzuki students first listen to a note, then they imitate that. The process is repeated with a musical phrase and finally an entire piece.
With patience, love, and encouragement, parents and teachers teach the child to play the violin, cello, viola, flute or piano. Each step is mastered with constant repetition.
My oldest son learned the violin using the Suzuki method when he was two-years-old. It requires parent involvement, but there are two things I noticed:
- he quickly learned simple songs
- it sparked his enthusiasm to stick with it and learn more.
Brain-builder #2: Visual/Spatial Cortex
Specific Areas of Learning: Visual Perception, Math, and Science
Music strengthens the visual/spatial areas of the brain. Being able to visually see and visually perceive our world is very important for learning and is strengthened in the visual cortex. It’s connected to:
- accurately learning to read
- giving and understand directions
- integrating visual information with other senses
If your child is a strong spatial learner, he/she is able to:
- solve problems in his/her minds-eye
- think in pictures
- understand higher forms of math and science
- very creative (they tend to dream in color while most people dream in black & white).
Think Albert Einstein whose visual/spatial areas of his brain were 25 percent larger than most people. He was an accomplished violinist and credits music with organizing his brain and helping him to solve intricate theories and problems in his minds-eye. His friend said that Einstein used music for inspiration and that the answers to complex problems came to him in the midst of playing his violin.
Studies show that when your child learns a musical instrument it primes, prepares, and develops the spatial areas of the brain in such a way that your child is able to understand science, technology, engineering, and math more easily. These are called STEM subjects.
Interestingly, educators are now calling it: STEMMM. This stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Medicine, and Music–because more and more educators are realizing the importance of music on brain development.
Music was considered one of the four pillars of learning during the time of Pythagoras. If people understood it’s importance centuries ago–then so should we.
The visual/spatial areas of the brain are also tied to creativity. Creative problem-solvers will be needed for 21st-century problems. When your children play a musical instrument, you will begin to notice a correlation between a higher-level of problem-solving skills and their music skills.
Music Programs that Target Visual/Spatial Learning
Note: these two programs are amazing for building the visual cortex as well as the auditory and motor cortices.
This is a colorful program that will teach your child as young as 3-years-old to read music. Developed by Karla Hastings Crossett a conservatory-trained musician with a background in languages, she devised this music method which parallels language so that reading skills are not needed…only speech. Hence, even a 3-year-old can learn to read music using this method.
Crossett’s music program involves an app that will teach your child to play the piano using a tablet or touch-screen computer. The app works with a midi keyboard or controller and the child can use the app independently.
The music curriculum uses finger colors by matching the colors on your child’s fingers to the colors on the keyboard. This patterning helps very young children learn to read music and it also builds memorization skills as your child memorizes colors, notes, and keys on the keyboard.
Even your 2-year-old can learn to play using this method as it also involves singing, clapping, tapping, waving, pointing and moving (visual and motor development)
The Anybody Can Play Piano website has many worksheets pertaining to patterning with piano keys. They are not necessary. The app alone is sufficient, but the additional activities offered in the program reinforce visual learning.
This amazing program costs only $1.99 per month!
Let’s Play Music is the brainchild of music education major, Shelle Soelberg. Unable to find a suitable music program for her daughter, she began writing her own curriculum and a year later, Let’s Play Music, was born.
Using the concepts found in Orff-Schulwerk, Dalcroze, and Kodaly, the program will introduce your child between the ages of four through six to music, movement, and singing.
Let’s Play Music is organized into three sequential years:
The first year incorporates games, songs and tone bells to teach staff awareness and rhythm reading skills. The second year, your child will transfer these skills to playing the piano, where he/she will learn chord notation, intervals, and harmonic improvisation.
By the end of the third year, your child will be playing the piano at a level one or two, transposing music, composing his/her own music, sight-reading music, and are prepared to excel in further private piano instruction.
Recently, “Sound Beginnings” was added to the curriculum. The program, for children ages two to four, includes singing, movement, games, stories, and activities.
Let’s Play Music is offered in twenty-six states and in Canada. Check their website for a program near you.
Brain-builder #3: Motor Cortex
Specific Areas of Learning: Brain Organization, Listening, Memory Skills
Learning a musical instrument develops the motor areas of our brain—which is important for the development and organization of the entire neurological system.
When your children learn to play any musical instrument: string, percussion, brass or woodwinds, they are using their hands and/or feet—which all develop the motor areas of the brain.
When your young child pounds on rhythm instruments, claps her hands, stamps her feet, snaps her fingers or marches around the room she is using the motor areas of her brain.
It’s similar to a baby learning to crawl—all these activities organize the brain; helps the child to remain focused and increases memorization skills as they learn patterning and sequencing.
These specific body movements are found in the Dalcroze and Orff-Schulwerk programs.
Music Programs that Target Motor Learning
Dalcroze was started in Switzerland by Emile Jaques-Dalcroze.
It’s a is a form of dancing that uses specific movements called eurhythmics. Children move their bodies rhythmically to the beat of the music. The body literally becomes an instrument and is trained as an instrument. Attention, concentration, and memory are required.
Dalcroze will teach your child to understand, follow, and repeat complex rhythms.
When your child hears the music, she moves her body in sync with the rhythms. By merging the sense of seeing, hearing, feeling, and moving to the music, she enjoys a complete musical experience.
Many different senses come together in the Dalcroze experience: seeing, hearing, feeling and moving.
Scientists say that movement is an indispensable part of learning and thinking. Dancing and moving to the music, marching, singing, whistling melodies, humming tunes all boost a child’s language, listening and motor skills. They also help develop physical coordination, timing, and memory.
Orff-Schulwerk was started by a German composer, Carl Orff and his associate, Hunild Keetman. Orff’s philosophy is, “Out of movement, music; out of music, movement.” Clapping, stamping, patting the hands on the lap, and finger snapping are the four body movements that make up the Orff experience.
Through play activities and the use of rhythm instruments such as drums, sticks, blocks, and bells, your children learn music patterns and how to keep a beat. Orff’s melody instruments include wooden xylophones and metal glockenspiels (glockenspiel means “bell play” in German).
This method is a group experience, and your children learn to be team participants through songs, games, rhymes, and dances.
The Orff-Schulwerk program has been translated into 18 languages and is taught all over the world using the traditional music and folklore of the country in which it is taught. There are more than 10,000 Orff teaches in the United States.
Enroll Your Kids In Music Lessons
You now have several choices. You can enroll your child in traditional private music lessons from a trained music teacher. You can enroll your child in one or more of the programs just discussed. Or you can do a combination of both.
Just remember, if you want your children to have a bigger, better brain that:
- functions at a higher academic level
- helps your child to read
- increases language development
- boosts memory
- aids in the learning of math and science
- enhances motor skills
- helps learning-disabled children
…then enroll your kids in music lessons. It will be the best thing you do for their brains this summer and beyond. Here’s a recap:
You can access the 2-minute video here
Do you have your children enrolled in a music program that you love and your children love? Have you noticed that the program has helped your child academically? Please share in the comment section below.