How Music and Singing Helps Brain Development In Children

Today’s post is by guest blogger & music teacher, Gary Stevens. 

How Music and Singing Helps Brain Development In Children
Music has been an easy target for the recent cuts to school budgets. Since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008, the quality and quantity of music education all over the country has plummeted. The bureaucrats who make these decisions seem to have a very outdated view of education, focusing on math and science and other “proper” subjects, and do not seem to realize the huge advantages that music education has for children.
The numbers today are shocking. Recent research has shown that in New York, 85% of students have not received adequate musical education by the time they reach high school, and in California fully 50% of school music programs have been closed since 2009.

My aim today is simple – if you are not aware of the benefits that learning music can have for your kid, I’ll explain these. Then, I’ll give you some ideas about how you can take the initiative, and incorporate musical education into your kids’ schooling.

The Evidence

Even a quick glance at recent research about music education proves beyond doubt that learning music has huge advantages. A huge study in Germany, one of the biggest pieces of research in this area ever conducted, proves that musical training improves both cognitive and non-cognitive skills by more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance.

For many progressive educators, of course, this is not a surprise. Many well respected educative analysts have been saying for years that learning music leads to better attendance, improved academic performance, and ultimately happier children.

Improved Academic Performance

It’s become something of a cliché to point out the deep links between mathematics and music. You probably know a guy or gal who plays an instrument, and is also great at math, but this is also backed up by scientific research.

The reasons for this connection have long been argued about, but the current scientific thinking seems to be that both music and math stimulate and develop a particular type of brain activity – spatial-temporal reasoning. The rhythm and discipline involved in playing and learning music appears to be a great way of developing the kind of deep-thinking skills that are so useful in technical disciplines, and so valued in industry.

Playing music seems to really improve children’s ability to think through complex problems, and so can rapidly improve their academic performance in technical subjects like math and science. In addition, the research suggests that this effect is even more pronounced for students who come from lower-income families, and so music education has an important role to play in closing the achievement gap.

Improved Memory And Speech

But it’s not only technical subjects that benefit from learning music. Playing an instrument also stimulates and develops the parts of the brain that process and work with language. This is likely because learning an instrument requires a direct connection between sound and thought, and after even a few months of practice significant improvements in working memory and speech comprehension are observed.

This is one of the best arguments for incorporating musical education into the very earliest years of schooling, because improved memory and speech means that children learn to read and write much more quickly. With better short-term memory, an improved ability to concentrate, and being used to make a connection between written signs and sound, kids make more rapid progress with this if they are also learning music.

For kids who are learning a second language, the effect is even more pronounced. There is a long and well-established connection between language learning and music. This should not really be surprising, of course, since both types of learning involve a keen ear and converting written signs into organized sound.

Making Better People

Beyond academic performance, of course, there is another compelling reason for children to learn music – a broad education makes better people. When educating any child, the aim should be not just to get them good grades in school, but also to allow them to develop into a well-rounded individual, and music helps with this.

Although this is a more difficult area to research than the improvement in grades caused by a musical education, some statistics are available. Recent research shows that lower-income students who receive a musical education are more civic-minded, more likely to vote, more likely to do volunteer work, get a degree and end up in a professional career.

The reasons for this are mysterious, but if you’ve ever learned an instrument you might have a theory about how it works. I know I do – the experience of playing in a band or orchestra is one of the best ways of teaching kids co-operation, compromise, and teamwork. This seems to translate, in later life, to adults who are better-rounded.

How To Teach Your Kids Music

Given the huge cuts in musical education in schools, and given the benefits that learning music can have for your kids, you might want to take the initiative and arrange a musical education for them. There are a few key steps here.

The first is choosing an instrument. Whilst it might be tempting to go for a classical instrument, in my experience it is best to choose an instrument that is used in the music your children actually like. If they are into classical music, great, but they are in a minority. They are more likely to want to learn guitar, and letting them choose the same instrument as their musical heroes will ultimately be more fun for them, and keep them engaged. Luckily, however, there is an instrument that has the rigour of a classical instrument, and can also be used in rock and roll – the keyboard. Getting a decent starter keyboard, and of course a keyboard amp, is a great start.

Even if you play an instrument yourself, I also think it best to arrange for a professional teacher for your kid. Trying to teach them yourself tends to lead to arguments, which can quickly sap the enthusiasm and fun that should be part of learning an instrument. There are plenty of sites that can allow you to find a teacher.

From there, let your kid explore their own path. Doing this will allow them to keep up their motivation, play for longer, and ultimately allow them to realize all the benefits of learning music.

Gary Stevens is a music teacher and avid guitar enthusiast from Ottawa, Canada. On his spare time he runs the blog Best Amps where he helps new musicians find the top amplifiers for their guitars.








Reflections from Two of a Kind!

Here are some reflections from Two of a Kind, our June Artist of the Month. 
Two of a Kind

A couple of my favorite things happen in the month of June: Father’s Day, and the beginning of library summer reading programs.  As the father of twins (our sons Ari & Jason came after our name “Two of a Kind”!), I look forward to this holiday.  At one point, I looked around in vain for songs for Father’s Day, and so I decided to write one of my own.  However, I got a bit side-tracked, and I ended up writing a song about other species of dads, called Animal Dads.  This song features facts about cotton-top tamarins, emperor penguins, seahorses, and Darwin’s frogs – all species in which the dads play a special role.

I have also written songs celebrating various aspects of my experience of being a parent, including This Old Rocking Chair (a lullaby), Family Harmony (tracing the history of singing in my family), Think of it as an Adventure (when things go wrong on family vacations), Gotta Go (trouble getting out the door), I Have 2 Stomachs (our sons’ explanation for why they could be full but still have room for dessert), Are You Listening? (selective hearing), and (All I Have To Do Is) Scream (a parody of the Everly Brothers’ song about infants).

Every June, we start a summer full of summer reading program performances at libraries, and we particularly love this year’s theme of “Build a Better World”.  We’ll be doing lots of reading/library/book songs, including Tom Chapin’s Library Song,  Seven Nights to Read, Author, and Monty Harper’s Hangin’ Out with Heroes at the Library.  We’ll also be including lots of songs about making the world a better place, such as We’re All in this Together, Sally Rogers’ What Can One Little Person Do?, Bill Harley’s It’s a Long Way, The World is Not Your Garbage Can, Ruth Pelham’s Under One Sky, and of course Peter & Ellen Allard’s Building a Better World.  We also love including our song I Dig Reading, for the intersection between the reading themes and the literal take on “building”.

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Tips for Teaching Communication Skills to Kids

By Don MacMannis, Ph.D.Five angry kids

One of the most common challenges facing families today is how to communicate feelings in ways that help instead of hurt. Effective techniques are available, so it’s just a matter of learning these tools and putting them into practice. Whether it’s anger, hurt, fear, sadness, or guilt, research tells us that feelings want to come out.

Feelings held too long inside can result in withdrawal, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and a whole rash of psychosomatic problems such as headaches, stomach aches, and difficulty sleeping. On the other hand, expressing feelings in hurtful ways such as with put-downs, meltdowns, sarcasm, withdrawal, or behavioral acting out can create great strains on our relationships.

There are at least five main ways that our children learn how to communicate: from the model of adults in the family interacting with one another, from the way that the adults communicate directly with them, from their relationships with brothers or sisters, from examples on TV and movies, and from how they interact with their peers.

Tips_blogsidebar_drmacSince sibling relationships are one of the most important templates for how kids get along with their peers, we urge parents to teach social skills to their kids and encourage healthy sibling relationships. Think of life inside the family as a laboratory for learning how to get along with others. Consider the following example:

Alex and Avery were eight-year-old twins referred for school problems. From an initial interview with the family, it was learned that Alex had gotten suspended from school for hitting. Avery suffered from social isolation and complained of having only one friend, adding that lots of kids teased her.

Asked whether her twin brother ever took her side when she was being teased, Avery exclaimed, “We don’t get along.” The rest of the family nodded in agreement, confirming that the kids were constantly at each other’s throats. A stone-cold silence entered the room.

Bickering between siblings, as with Avery and Alex, is one of the most common symptoms that arise from not having tools for working out feelings. One of our favorite lead-in questions is “Do you guys ever recycle or do you throw everything in the trash?” We’ll get affirmative answers around re-cycling things like bottles, cans and newspapers, and then follow up with “That’s great, but do you know how to recycle your relationship when things get strained?” The point of the question becomes obvious.

One of the conflict-resolution tools that we teach parents and kids is called “The Repair Kit.” It can provide an effective path toward forgiveness, conflict resolution, and bringing out the best in one another. Once acquired, this method can be used as frequently as needed to help things run more smoothly.

Repair Kit

Kids between the ages of 3-8 years old love to learn the fun and meaning of this process by first listening to “Talk It Out,” a song in the Happy Kids Songs album, Talking and Listening. It also helps if parents introduce kids to this tool as part of a family meeting, when things are going well. Explain that, “We know that broken things such as a flat tire need repair. We have also learned that when people aren’t acting in caring ways toward each other, something needs fixing.” The adults can first model how to do it, and then have each family member practice by initially “pretending” to be upset with one another about something. The “repair kit” can be used with kids as young as five or six. (Click here for more Happy Kids Songs)

If you’re thinking that you and your partner may need to do a few couple’s tune-ups with this process first, don’t be embarrassed! That’s often the case, and you can use the exact same model. We’ve taught it to thousands of couples as well.

After listening to the song and learning how to use the “repair kit”, Alex and Avery’s relationship improved dramatically. They talked to each other about things that had hurt each other’s feelings and made some agreements about how they were going to treat each other. Their mom also set up more play dates with peers as an additional way for them to practice their new social skills with some coaching.

We can’t overemphasize the importance of healthy communication. In happy, loving families, family members take time to check in and learn how to talk and listen to one another. They know how to repair hurt feelings instead of withdrawing or becoming hurtful to each other. As hard as connecting can be in the hurried pace of our day-to-day lives, quality communication is more important than ever.

About the Author

Don MacMannis, Ph.D. is a psychologist and Clinical Director of the Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara. He has specialized in the treatment of children and families for over forty years. “Dr. Mac” is the co-author of two highly acclaimed books: How’s Your Family Really Doing?: 10 Keys to a Happy Loving Family. and Who’s the Boss? The Win-Win Way to Parent Your Defiant Strong-Willed Child. Also specializing in creative projects for young children, he was music director and songwriter for the PBS hit series, Jay Jay the Jet Plane and has also written for Mutt & Stuff on Nick Jr. Most recently he produced Happy Kids Songs, an award-winning series of over fifty songs and activities for social and emotional learning.

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Why Shop at Songs for Teaching?

Reposting this article from last year as a friendly reminder.

Songs for TeachingWe know you have many choices as a consumer, and we here at Songs for Teaching want to win your business. So here are our top 10 reasons to shop at for your children’s educational music.

Number 10. We’ve done the research! – We know that you want the best for your buck. We preview all the cds listed on our site for the following criteria:
a. The music must be of high quality.
b. The content must be educationally useful and appropriate.
c. The production value must be professional quality.

Number 9. We provide music in a variety of formats Hard Copy CDs, Mp3 downloads, Videos, Sheet Music, Lyrics etc. Many of our songs even have teaching materials as well.

Number 8. We are on the up and up with current trends in Children’s Music. As Corporate Sponsors of Children’s Music Network, a consortium of musicians, educators, producers, songwriters etc., we connect regularly with other like-minded folks who are committed to bringing quality music to children. (If you haven’t heard of this organization, check it out and join!)

Number 7. Hard-to-Find Titles – We carry many items that never made it on to those “big dog” web sites. Some artists prefer to sell exclusively with Songs for Teaching! Looking for that folk song your grandmother used to sing? We probably have it!

Number 6. Lyrics, Lyrics, Lyrics – Nearly all of our products include lyrics. This is heaven for teachers who utilize lyrics as a teaching tool in the classroom. Lyrics matter and having a printable version saves teachers precious time and energy! Can’t get that from the big dogs!


Number 5. Recommendations – Not sure what to buy? Tired of searching among thousands of songs and cds on those “big dog” sites? We have recommendation pages for nearly every topic. Just click thenext to the topic of your choice on our Home Page and it will list out song suggestions for that topic.

Number 4. I answer the phone! – Customer Service is my favorite part of the job. I enjoy talking to parents and educators helping them with their orders or offering personal recommendations. I like email too! If you leave me a voicemail or email, I try my hardest to get back to you as soon as I can. You aren’t getting the customer service department, you are getting me – an educator, a parent, a musician and the owner of Songs for Teaching.

Number 3. We take Purchase Orders. – Simply fax in your signed purchase order (866-769-8528) and I will take it from there! I am happy to jump through whatever hoops required to become a “Preferred Vendor” for your organization.

Number 2. Support Small Businesses – While “shop local” doesn’t quite describe us, the sentiment is similar. We feel like we have a little shingle hung on the Main Street of the World Wide Web. We know it might be the trend to shop at one of those “big dogs” but this Mom and Pop are committed to helping you!

Number 1. We are Artists too! – We have been writing and recording educational music for years and really believe in its power as an incredible medium for education. Our ultimate goal to get quality educational music in the hands of parents and teachers.


David & Alice Burba,
Songs for Teaching Owners

Owners of Songs for Teaching