Back in 1973, Dorothy Rentallack author of The Sound of Music and Plants helped her plants bloom quicker and become healthier by playing Indian Raga and Baroque music to them. Another musical therapy extravaganza took German musician Franz Braun to crisscross America providing his hired services to serenade cows in order to help them produce more milk. Another music therapy experiment took researchers to play classical music in crime ridden areas from London to Atlanta. The results were that crimes plummeted to up to 30% in some areas.
But, how about children? Can children really benefit at a physical, emotional, or even intellectual level by indulging in a Sonata? The answer seems to be yes. In a study published in Human Physiology in 1996, it was found that four year old children that listened to classical music for one hour a day, for a period of six month, improved coherence within areas of the cerebral cortex where changes in the alpha rhythm frequency took place, resulting in relaxation and concentration. What’s even more interesting is that the children were not even required to listen attentively to the music. It is safe to say that classical music relaxation inducing properties can be attributed in part to the way this kind of music prompts the brain to produce dopamine ( a hormone associated with pleasure). The website The Brain on Music-Brain Leaders and Learners, Dr. Ellen Weber notes ” Interestingly some rhythms such as baroque induce enzymes in the brain and add amazing well being and focus.”
It is a no-brainer that motion picture giants such as Hollywood, for instance, discovered the highway to our emotion many decades ago. Through the manipulation of music– classical music included–, movies can make us cry, feel anxious, or leap for joy. But we do not have to be movie producers, or music therapist, to tap into our children’s emotions, or to reap the benefits of exposing them to classical music. Parents, and educators alike, can learn to use classical music to get to the heart and soul of their children, but we must start early before they develop their own preferences in music. In other words, the earlier we introduce children to the world of classical music, the more chances they will grow to enjoy it, appreciated it, and benefit from listening to it. And by the way, the “enjoyment factor” is by far, the most important reason for introducing classical music to children, When children learn to enjoy the complex structure of a classical piece, by virtue it will produce in them feelings of relaxation and wellbeing. Another added benefit of classical music is that because of the complex structure of its nature, when compared to other kinds of music, it seems to follow pathways in the brain that converge with areas that have to do with spatial reasoning and mathematics.
So is the Mozart Effect all that is cranked up to be? Does it really make children smarter? The observations of various researchers on this particular area have incited many debates. Research conducted by the University of California for example, says that Mozart’s sonata for two pianos K448 does increase spatial temporal IQ by 9 points. But then some will claim that these tests only confirmed improvement in spatial intelligence which mainly affect intelligence in architecture and the visual arts, and no other areas of learning. Some claim the effects only last about ten minutes. Others have argued that test subjects in these studies were college students and not infants. To add to further disappointment, in 2010 a team at the University of Vienna ran 40 international studies and found no proof of The Mozart Effect. So where does that leave us? Should we feel ripped out of our money if we’ve invested in countless toys and dvds promising to enhance our child’s IQ through Mozart? Well no. The main idea to keep in mind, again, is that classical music relies mainly on the “enjoyment arousal” and DOES have an overall relaxing effect, that by virtue may increase children’s ability to learn and concentrate.
So where do we start, Mozart, Bach or Vivaldi? I would say it doesn’t matter. Just as long as you get your children to enjoy classical music. One fun way to do this is by playing classical music while children indulge in art. To add some pizzaz to the event, you can have children synchronize the strokes of their brush with the variations in the musical notes within the composition. Another superb way to introducing classical music into the lives of children, is by encouraging them to dance to it. For example, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony has many elaborate variations in rhythm that go from the subtle to the tumultuous, stimulating children’s entire neuromuscular systems.
Now, if you are really pushing for an increase in your child’s IQ, it wouldn’t hurt to have him or her learn to play an instrument, since studies have found that musicians in average, have sharper minds and are less likely to suffer a mental decline. Of course, children may not be ready to play a classical piece until way into the elementary school years, nevertheless the experiences they acquire as they finger through an instrument will be priming the brain in preparation for the bigger notes. However, caution never to force a child to learn to play an instrument. Preschool children, need just to familiarize themselves with an instrument of choice and learn to identify the different instruments. After about age four, a child can be taught to identify a beat, melody, or even notes (treble is a high note, bass is a low note). After age four or five, a child can learn to play a simple instrument, usually the piano or violin are good starters. Still, do not stress the child into sitting for long periods of time in order to get them to master their instrument, it defeats the goal which is for the child to develop a true interest in music. It is not until age seven, that most music teachers will agree is a ripe age to begin formal music lessons.
In conclusion, introducing classical music to children should be done early. The more your child enjoys classical music the more positive effects he will reap. More relaxation means better concentration and learning, and so yes, classical music can help a child grow healthier, and smarter. Add to that the fact that classical music traverse through brain paths that stimulate the use of spatial-temporal reasoning and we have another reasons to support the Mozart Effect, since spatial reasoning is extremely useful in mathematical thinking. In my book Making Sense of Children’s Senses I further allude to the effects of music in children, and how we can use music to improve children’s behavior in the chapter “Music, the Holy Grail of Relaxation”.
Monique Rodriguez is a Childcare Specialist and author of the book Making Sense of Children’s Senses. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org