The Real-Life Benefits of Structured Music Learning
Written for Kids & Company by ABC Academy of Music
If you’re like most people, you probably think that taking music classes is a good idea for your babies, toddlers, and children, but you can’t really explain why. You know that there are studies that say how good music learning is for the brain and that it helps with academic learning, but do you know how music learning could be your secret weapon to setting your kids up for success professionally and personally? Let’s explore the real-life benefits of learning music and why structured music learning is as important as all the other types of curricular learning that your kids will experience.
The Differences Between Primary Music Development and Formal Classroom Learning
Let’s start with the difference between primary music learning and formal learning at school because we forget what it’s like to be a child. The biggest mistake we make as adults is to impose the expectation of a formal learning environment on our young children. Your child’s development is a journey that cannot be measured by their age or grade until they learn that system because the brain and physical development that occurs does so at its own pace. If you have multiple children, you have likely seen this in your home – one child did something sooner than another at the same age, or it took much longer. This is normal, this is normal…and did I mention, this is normal?!
How Children Learn During Primary Music Development
The secret to meaningful development in primary years (say, through grade 2) are modelled inputs. When children can see regular examples of activities done by, and with their primary role models (that’s you), it gives them the opportunity to go through the developmental process: observation, experimentation, and mastery. Because each child decides when they engage in these processes individually, you need to think of them in terms of developmental ranges rather than by age. Your child might start to sing the main note of a tune at 8 months, but there are intermediate steps that take a few years before they arrive at singing all the right notes in tune and in time. It won’t happen when they turn 1–2 years old or on a schedule you want because it is up to your child’s brain. Try convincing them to do it according to your ideal timeframe and see how far you get!
The idea that they can or should sit still for any length of time to ‘watch’ and ‘do’ is not possible at an early age – they aren’t built for it. Yes, as they arrive at 4–5 years old they begin regular, socialized activities through school that help them to get to our adult view of structured activities, but until then you need a different approach.
You know from mealtimes, bedtimes, walks, diaper changes and more how important structure is to young children – some form of structure is also a must when choosing your musical activity. Enter a respected and established program – in our case, we use Music Together®.
Our classes are highly structured from the organizational and planning side, but what we hope families see and experience is a music, movement, and instrumental play class that gives them all the tools for fun every week in class and, if they want, at home. You don’t see or hear about the ongoing research into best practices of early childhood and music education, it’s just woven into your experience.
Ideally, your children adapt over a course of weeks to what is happening but are free to come and go. Over time, you get the tips and tools to help identify developmental ranges so you can watch for and encourage them through a play-based approach – it’s the best way to grow primary music development, and a great way to build some family bonds.
The Shift to Formal Learning
As your children enter formal, grade-based learning in kindergarten, there is an overlap of the modelled learning with structured sit-still-and-focus learning. This transition takes a few years to complete and it’s extremely important to continue with the primary learning model during this time. Your children still rely on your example and do their best learning with you involved.
If you can, stick with a group program that you can participate in. Your child will develop an understanding of basic structures and forms (taking turns, sequences, order) that will open up a new world of observation, experimentation and mastery that they can start determining – the foundation of future leadership and collaboration skills. Hint - do this outside of musical activity, too!
As a parent, this is a golden age for you and one that is hard to capture because we are culturally pressured to drop our children off. If you can keep being involved together, you’ll be glad you did, and it will pay dividends with your relationship with your children.
Why Aren’t All Kids Learning Music?
Because musicians have been so bad at articulating the benefits of music, we have seen a tremendous cultural erosion of music education in the public school system and, as a result, in average music-making by average people culturally around us.
As time has gone on, music (and other arts) have become the victims of a kind of academic apartheid that marginalizes it as a subject because it is easy to do so on the basis of cost. This is the biggest tragedy in education aside from the failure of the system to self-modernize.
So how Does Music Beat Other Curricular Subjects?
This occurs in two areas: Professional Skills and Personal Benefits. For both of these, we’re faced with a large number of areas that we can use to illustrate the benefits, but we’ll focus on 4 areas each.
To learn an instrument, and then a song, you need to focus. Eventually, as you play with others, you need to focus on your part, where you are in the piece that you’re playing when to start and stop, and all of the things happening around you.
Music is always played to the end. No performer gets up in the middle of their piece just because the time is up the way you do for a math or history test. We don’t submit work or projects to our bosses at work that are incomplete. Musicians must finish their pieces just as every professional must complete their work as adults.
We work with others in life – bosses, colleagues, spouses, and neighbours. In music, from day one you are collaborating with someone – your teacher, your friend, your parent. Learning to interact with others is not just a vital professional skill, it is fundamental to survival. Being a good collaborator helps us improve both our personally and professionally.
Performance isn’t for everyone, but the presentation is. You have to play what you learned for your teacher. You have to go for the job interview. You might end up speaking in a meeting, boardroom, or conference, but whatever that looks like in the future, there is no more organic way to get comfortable with presentation than through music. In a good learning environment, these opportunities grow with your child, from the lesson, maybe into the classroom, as well as group and solo performances.
The above items are norms for music. Maybe you do public speaking here and there at school, maybe you have to finish some of your work, maybe you do the odd group project. Maybe you don’t. Why not make it part of an enjoyable activity that you do consistently through your formative years?
For over 30 Years, Music Together programs have been enriching families' lives and making the world a better place, by making it more musical! To learn more, visit their website.
Part 1 of 2.