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ResilienC - Issue 30, 2015
Music, Development & Resilience

“Music is the universal language of mankind.”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Music helps build many of the inner strengths that support children’s development and resilience – self-regulation, thinking skills, perseverance and confidence, positive outlook, responsibility, participation, cultural competence and more.

Not only can music help build inner strengths, it also supports the development of children’s outside supports. The primal power of music binds us together emotionally and physically. It fosters bonding, a sense of belonging, cooperation and community. And that helps us recover from disappointments and hard times.

What research says about music, development and resilience…

Music and early development

Music and movement are the “first languages” of childhood. ~ Grace Nash, pioneer in music education

At only 20 weeks, the unborn fetus can hear and respond to sounds—lower pitched sounds to start and higher ones later. This begins her learning through sound. In fact, researchers at the University of Helsinki have shown that newborns can actually recognize music and sounds they heard in the womb (Partanen, Kujala, Tervaniemi & Huotilainen, 2013).

Later, the fetus is able to focus on listening to his mother’s voice and feeling her breathing—these are precursors to language development. Professor Patricia Kuhl at the University of Washington says, “The new research suggests that babies begin to absorb language when they are inside the womb during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy – which is earlier than previously held.”

Infant hearing is well developed shortly after birth, so infants can respond to music very early on.

Daniel Levitin, at McGill University, suggests children’s brains are ‘prewired’ to learn music, just as they are prewired for language. He notes that babies can babble before they can speak. In fact, they can babble musically. They are able to make up little songs and create musical ideas.

Here are some interesting findings from studies exploring infant musical development...

Infants less than 1 month identified the ‘beat’ in music. (Winkler et al., 2009)

Babies as young as 5 months respond rhythmically to music and find it more interesting than speech. (Zentner & Eerola, 2010)

Moving rhythmically to music releases oxytocin, the ‘bonding’ hormone. (Trainor, 2014)

While classical music won’t make us Einsteins, it appears to be good for infant brain development. Its complex structure primes the brain for spatial reasoning. Read article

Music – a key factor in learning

“Music is the essential element for children that touches all ways young children learn.” ~ Elizabeth Carlton

Professor Elizabeth Carlton, consultant to High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, says that music is essential to learning in young children.

As a result, children should be exposed to musical experiences – movement, sound, singing – as early as possible. She points out that the foundation of aural (hearing) skills is from the 3rd trimester of pregnancy through age three years.

Young children have positive intuitive responses to all types of music. Singing games, songs and movement are precursors to thinking, problem-solving and memory. And combining music experiences with learning is especially critical for children at risk – because “the body, voice and brain are united for optimal processing.” Carlton adds that music helps children “develop memory skills, sing tunefully, speak clearly, pay attention and make smooth transitions from one activity to another.” It also inspires creativity and builds confidence.

Music interconnects brain areas

Two findings stand out when we review neuroscience research involving brain imaging, electrical recording techniques and music, say Professors Michael Thaut and Gerald McIntosh at Colorado State University:
#1 – “The brain areas activated by music are not unique to music. The networks that process music also process other functions.”

#2 – “Music learning changes the brain. The brain areas involved in music are also active in processing language, auditory perception, attention, memory, executive control, and motor control. Music efficiently accesses and activates these systems and can drive complex patterns of interaction among them.”

Thaut and McIntosh say music can help build new neural connections as well as “drive general re-education of cognitive, motor and speech and language functions via shared brain systems and plasticity” which helps to heal damaged areas.

In this video, Professor Ani Patel at Tufts University talks about why music is so important to learning—he calls it “O-P-E-R-A” hypothesis. He says that “Music is not an island in the brain.” “There is an overlap (“O”) between the neural networks that process music and those involved in other day-to-day cognitive processes.” And because music requires greater precision (“P”) in processing than speech, it helps us process speech better. The “E, R & A” stand for emotion, repetition and attention – these drive brain plasticity and learning.

Music and language development

Professor Diana Deutsch at the University of California-San Diego says that the latest data show that “music and language are so intertwined that an awareness of music is critical to a baby’s language development” (Schiller, 2010). It also has a powerful effect on language development in young children.

Based on their studies, other leading researchers say that...
When music is part of parents’ routines, babies speak up sooner. (Trainor)

Setting words to music can help young children learn words more quickly. (Bales)

Early exposure to music training increases abilities in many other areas including language and math. (Rauscher & Shaw)

Playing music improves ‘executive functioning’ (not just auditory processing) which may help academic skills. (Gaab)

Music and emotion

Although music is similar to language, music has roots in more primitive areas of the brain—the cerebellum and amygdala. These areas are also involved in reward, motivation and emotion. In the cerebellum, our brains actually synchronize to the beat of the music. This is a key reason why music has such a powerful impact on our emotions.

Music’s power to change our emotions and mood has been well established and noted over the centuries. Here are a few highlights from research examining the relationship between music and emotion...
5-month-old babies are able to categorize songs as “happy” and at 9 months they can pick out “sad” music just the way that older children and adults do. (Flom, Gentile & Pick, 2008)

Here is a brief VIDEO of a tiny infant who cries when her mother sings a bittersweet song along with an interview with Professor Laurel Trainor on infant emotions and music.

People project the mood of music they hear onto other people’s faces. (Logeswaran et al., 2009)

Music helps raise mood most in people who are actively trying to feel happier. (Ferguson & Sheldon, 2013)

Music and health

Many studies have shown music’s role in stress reduction and relaxation. Researchers think it may be due to music’s influence on decreasing muscle tension, helping us do stress-relieving activities and reducing negative emotions. These studies show that music...
helps induce sleep (Harmat, Takács, & Bódizs, 2008)
boosts immunity (Enk, Franzke, Offermanns, Hohenadel, Boehlig, Nitsche et al., 2008)
has a positive effect on heart health (Bernardi, Porta & Sleight, 2006)
can lower cortisol (a stress hormone) levels (Khalfa, Dalla Bella, Roy, Peretz & Lupien, 2003)
may reduce depression (Maratos, Gold, Wang & Crawford, 2008)
fights fatigue (Jing & Xudong, 2008; Ladenberger,1986)

Therapeutic effects of music

Music is “proving to be an effective clinical tool for treating medical issues such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, stroke, NICU infants, language acquisition, dyslexia, pain management, stress and anxiety, coma and more” (Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center, University of California-San Diego, 2011). All of this new research, using MRIs and other electrical recording, has demonstrated that music-based therapies can be effective for children and adults.

Summary: Music has a wide-ranging impact

Many studies have now shown the widespread positive impact music has on children and adults. Here’s a list of some of key areas facilitated by music.

“Musical Tips” – for parents and service providers

Based on current music and brain research, here are some things you can do to enhance development and resilience in infants and young children.
SING, SING and SING!! Sing to kids, and sing with kids. Don’t be bashful. Kids don’t care if you don’t sing like a pro as long as you enjoy it. Sing while you work, play and cuddle. Make up little songs about what you are doing. Singing helps build your role modeling and relationships with children.

Make the stereo or a musical instrument the most important fixture in the house (not the TV or cell phone).

Encourage children to move to music – Here are two short videos that show babies moving and grooving, especially when parents join them. Video 1 (mom and 17-month old dancing); Video 2 (11-month old twins dance to dad playing guitar)

Give children opportunities to tap out the beat of various types of music. This helps their bodies and brains come together in processing sounds. If you haven’t yet seen this amazing video of 3-year-old Jonathan conducting Beethoven’s music, here’s your chance. Sit back and watch the sheer joy in his face as he moves to the music.

Offer free-play time for creative sound making. Watch this lively video showing what happens when a group of 4- and 5-year olds are given freedom to explore 60 homemade musical instruments. (Don’t miss the delightful young “composer” starting at 7 min.)

Use music to help children move from one activity to another. Check out this PARENT’s story about a wonderful teacher who used music every day to help her kindergarteners adjust to school and be ready to learn.

Look for opportunities for children to learn to play a musical instrument. Here are 10 ways that playing a musical instrument can help children grow.

Introduce children to different instruments and sounds to broaden their musical horizons. Here’s a great website that’s free, fun and educational.

Let your principal, school trustees and politicians know that you think it’s very important to keep music programs in our schools. Feel free to show them this issue of ResilienC to acquaint them with some of the compelling research.

Here are 35 more “musical” tips to help children grow and bounce back...


Try one of the musical tips mentioned in this issue with the kids in your life. Then send us an email about how it went.


FREE SONG to support your resilience – a gift to celebrate the season of “giving thanks”!

Take Five & Thrive! was written by RIRO’s Darlene Hall and arranged, played and recorded by Kirk Elliott. Kirk is a composer and all around “Renaissance Man” of music who plays more than 60 instruments and has a wealth of experience in children’s music. They teamed up with Rebecca Campbell, a noted Canadian singer-songwriter with an amazing, versatile voice. Creating this song and recording it was lots of fun—they hope you’ll like it, too. We’d love to hear your feedback.

Darlene started to compose music again after nearly 40 years. Based on her experience with chronic illness, she wanted to create an upbeat song to help adults remember simple ways to calm down, relax, revive and thrive. She hopes you’ll share these things with kids, too. That way adults and kids can “all grow strong” together.

SONGS to help children bounce back & blossom

Darlene was really inspired by the new research exploring music’s impact on children’s development. So, she invited Kirk and Rebecca to work with her again. They want to create a series of musical stories and simple sing-alongs to help young children flourish and bounce back from challenges.

These songs, as well as parent tip sheets and resource materials for service providers, will be based on the latest music and brain science. These resources also will tie into the content on RIRO’s parent website.

If you are interested in the “Music for Resilience” Project and would like to stay in touch, sign up for our email updates.

We plan to set up a CROWD FUNDING CAMPAIGN to finance this music project. Although Darlene will be donating her time, funds are needed for the musicians, recording and development of the resource materials. The goal is to use the proceeds from the sale of this music to support RIRO and its knowledge mobilization and development activities.

Upcoming RIRO Training

Reaching IN...Reaching OUT will host
the following training events in TORONTO:

5-day RIRO Trainer “Intensive:
(for trainers who offer training to service providers) 
April 4-8, 2016
More Information
3-day BBT “Intensive”:
(for trainers who offer training to parents)
Prerequisite: RIRO 12-hour Resiliency Skills Training. If you’ve not completed this training you may register for the RIRO skills training below.
February 10-12, 2016
More Information
12-hour RIRO Resiliency Skills Training :
(for frontline and leaders)
February 8 & 9, 2016
More Information

Reaching IN…Reaching OUT (RIRO) is dedicated to helping young children and adults around them develop their resilience. We welcome your comments and suggestions. Contact us.

Reaching IN…Reaching OUT is pleased to acknowledge The Child & Family Partnership, our founding sponsor.

RIRO’s parent pilot project as well as RIRO’s original research and product development were made possible through project funding from the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnership Program. Funding for the development of RIRO’s Trainer "Intensive” program and ResilienC came from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The opinions and interpretations in RIRO resources are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada or the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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