It is impossible to define exactly what music is, although most people accept that it might be sound through singing or active music-making. What is certain is that music helps us to communicate thoughts, ideas and emotions in ways that no other stimulus can. It offers a whole range of other benefits too, from pain and stress management to improved motor and rhythmic coordination. It also contributes unequivocally to the positive development of the human brain.
The development of music presumably took place in prehistoric times against a backdrop of natural sounds such as running water, ocean waves, bird and animal sounds. However, the earliest evidence for musical expression comes from India and is thought to be 4,000 years old.
Singing is a natural combination of sounds and rhythm. Songs and rhymes provide a powerful stimulus in terms of language development and it is never too early to introduce them. Even if babies cannot understand the words, they will pay attention to sounds, actions and facial gestures.
Babies and toddlers will listen to familiar songs over and over again and they will show pleasure whenever they hear them. Songs with a repetitive theme such as Round and Round the Garden and Pat-a-cake help them learn new words in an enjoyable way. They also encourage participation and turn-taking through clapping and body actions.
It is well known that babies are soothed by familiar lullabies and songs and classical music of a slow pace. The sound of the washing machine or vacuum cleaner can also soothe and calm a baby because these sounds are similar to noises heard in the womb. However, the rhythmic sound of the human heartbeat has the most positive effect on babies. Children with autism, attention deficient disorders, learning disabilities and dyslexia also benefit from its comforting sound.
Providing opportunities for babies and toddlers to make their own music can provide a great outlet for frustration, tension, stress and even anger. If they are allowed to improvise freely with an instrument, the parent or practitioner gains an insight into their emotions and feelings. For example, the toddler may hit an instrument with force if he is feeling angry or frustrated. Playing an instrument also enhances fine finger movements, improves eyesight, hearing, concentration and memory. It also promotes the production of antibodies which leads to improved health and well-being.
The lasting effects of musical experiences
Musical experiences can make a huge difference to all areas of learning and development. Songs and action rhymes develop language and listening skills, hand-eye coordination, muscle strength, socialisation and neurological development of the brain.
Playing an instrument encourages children to release stress and frustration and to experiment with and explore sound patterns. Fine motor movements and finger coordination are also enhanced as a result. Listening to music boosts attention, mood, memory and motivation.
Movement to music improves physical endurance, muscle strength, posture and creativity. Music in all its forms can give children a sense of security, a sense of belonging and a sense of importance.
Music has such a significant effect on brain development and the learning process that it simply has to be incorporated from birth. Some researchers would even say that musical experiences are vital for the total development of the brain. We now know that the optimal time to introduce music is from birth to the age of three years. After that, the window of opportunity gradually begins to close.