Developing Musical Intelligence Makes More Than Sound Sense

Would you be surprised to know that there is one known activity that can vastly improve your child’s cognitive capacity? Not only that, but also develop the mastery of languages, help to create memory systems, positively affect emotional state and helps with complex problem solving, as well as provide the potential for a healthier brain as it ages? And what if that activity was found by scientists to be beneficial at any time of life but most beneficial before the age of 7?

Dr Anita Collins, from Melbourne University, in her inspirational TED talk, confirms that, remarkably, scientists have found that activity to be music!

Researcher Dr Shiela Woodward has established that children have musical memory and the ability to hear us speaking from as early as 22 weeks in-utero. Dr Anita Collins worked with neuroscientists using MRI scans to show that when we speak, the left side of the brain lights up and when we do mathematics, the right side is stimulated.

Amazingly, when we listen to music, the whole brain lights up. When we make music the images show fireworks, literally a party happening in the brain! Music is the one activity that stimulates the whole brain.

Testing on babies as young as 1-3 days old showed that they begin processing language through their musical pathways, confirming that they use music processing networks to understand and recognise their mothers’ voices. Scientists found that music education works three parts of the brain at once; the motor, visual and auditory courtesies. This is the equivalent of a full brain workout, allowing messages to travel far more quickly along more pathways. The study found that musicians have much higher executive function than the general population.

Dr Collins has further determined that because the entire brain is stimulated, creating new connections and pathways across the brain, making music has a profound impact upon intelligence. She and her team have found that IQ levels can be raised by up to 17 points through exposure to quality, interactive music experiences. With 100 being an average IQ, and 130 required for Mensa entry, 17 IQ points can make a significant difference to a child’s prospects in life.

Knowing all this, should we not ensure that every child has access to a quality music education?

Scientific research shows that students involved in good music programs actually do better overall on standardised tests, than students who do not have exposure to music education. More than 2000 years ago Plato said, “I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning” Dr Collins rightly asks why we are not expanding educational music programs!

Those who perform best at music are those who have well-developed musical intelligence. This is developed through singing and moving. Dr. John Feierabend‘s research confirms that learning an instrument does not develop musical intelligence, rather quality singing, dance and movement does. We then use this intelligence to play our instruments. Those who can sing tunefully, keep a beat and have artful experiences will connect much better with their instruments and with the music that they play.

Drs. Gordon and Bolton have discovered that singing wordless tunes to babies from birth engages the right side of their brains. As they focus and copy our sounds they begin using the whole brain. By responding to baby utterances with musical sounds we stimulate the growth of musical intelligence. Through highly interactive programs where children are engaged in creating musical sounds and adults model for children, evoking musical responses from them, children develop a good listening ear and auditory memory. This stands them in good stead for all their future learning.

Of course learning music has so many intrinsically good musical outcomes as well, and ideally we want our children to just love music and learn music because music is so wonderful, but it is so exciting to discover scientific evidence supporting its many positive effects.

This leaves me with one final question.

Have you enrolled your child into a music program yet?!

Use this link to view a short film explaining how playing an instrument benefits the brain.

Anna Mlynek-Kalman is Director of Music Works Magic. She is currently enrolled in the PhD. program at Monash University working with early childhood educators in a mentorship program researching the effects of early musical experiences on teacher musical confidence. Anna studied pedagogy in the U.S. and tutored aural musicianship for 5 years at Melbourne University. She consults in schools, runs training courses specifically for adults wishing to gain confidence when working with babies-8yr olds, as well as running sessions for this age group in her studio. She has produced 5 CDs and accompanying Teachers’ Manuals. She donates proceeds from the CDs to The Autism Centre - Learning 4 Life, and to Breast Cancer Research. She is passionate about inspiring others to create a high quality music education program that offers sound development, educational base for children from birth. More info:

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