Music, whether playing it, listening to it, or creating it, involves almost all of our cognitive abilities (Zatorre, 2005). Researchers have found that music perception is present very early in development. The human infant arrives on the scene already prepared to process music. Babies have a nervous system that is already prepared to sort out the musical sounds and construct a set of expectations based on a set of rules that they understand from a very early age (Zatorre, 2005). Because science has shown the positive impact that music has on shaping the brain, the GGK curriculum provides many child development activities and conversation guides that promote education on the impact of music in all areas of development.

Today, we will discuss the research on this topic, including benefits and the kind of music experts recommend. We’ll also review the various applicable GGK tools and resources, and how you, as home visitors, can support the journey of program families to explore music with their children. Over the last two decades, research has helped us better understand brain development and the impact of early experiences on a child’s long-term development. According to Elizabeth B. Carlton, Assistant Professor at Catawba College in North Carolina, musical experiences have great value. They enhance listening skills and help to develop intuitive responses. They also aid learning of vocabulary, sound and pitch differentiation, emotional responses, creative responses, memory, and the opportunity to experience pleasure.

These experiences are critical for optimal brain development during the first three years of a child’s life (Carlton, 2000). These listening experiences start even before birth; the fetus hears all sounds as musical through the amniotic fluid. We know that once babies are born, they will need to listen to hundreds of words and experience many sounds before they talk and sing. One of the most special moments we have as parents, is when we hear, for the very first time, our babies’ tiny voices joining us in singing the words to a lullaby. Often, we think that music only impacts language development. While music does support literacy skills and language learning, it also stimulates many other critical areas of development including social-emotional skills, physical development, and cognitive skills.

To further explore these areas, we will reference the work of Rebecca Parlakian and Claire Lerner from ZERO TO THREE. They point out that music is by nature a social experience. Music is often shared with others in the form of singing, dancing, and playing instruments together. Actively engaging infants and toddlers in musical activities enhances the following (Parlakian, 2010):

  • Social-emotional skills: During musical activities, children learn and practice self-regulation (when parents sing, they help babies manage their emotional states and physical needs). Singing about feelings helps them understand and express emotions, encourages positive peer interactions and forms the basis for toddlers’ first friendships. These experiences build self-confidence and self-efficacy. It also allows them to practice sharing and taking turns. Last but not least, music helps them develop cultural awareness – when playing songs from children’s home cultures, it validates the importance of their culture and language.
  • Physical (motor) skills: Certainly music offers plenty of opportunities for fine and gross motor development. It takes the muscles in the lips to form sounds and words, the muscles in hands and fingers to hold a drumstick or clap their hands, and the large muscles in the legs, arms, and trunk to dance and move. Balance, body awareness, and coordination are also skills that require communication between both sides of the brain.
  • Cognitive (thinking) skills: Music naturally provides opportunities to practice patterns and sequencing, math concepts such as counting and observation of differences, memory, and the ability to feel and express a steady beat. Research has connected these skills with high academic achievement in grades 1 and 2.
  • Language and literacy skills: Music supports spoken language, receptive language, and phonemic awareness – or how well a child can hear, recognize, and use different sounds. All these opportunities encourage children to practice logical and reasoning skills.