The Benefits of Music on Big Kids (Also Known as Elementary School Kids)

Our previous posts in the “Benefits of Music” series have detailed the astonishing effects of music on infants, toddlers, and even babies still in the womb. But unlike some other activities, music continues to be incredibly beneficial on kids as they get older, too—and even as they turn from kids into adults! While it’s important to incorporate music into the lives of your toddlers and infants, it’s just as important to ensure that your second grader keeps up their violin lessons, or keeps going to choir, or writes songs for their band with their friends (all via Zoom for the moment). These activities endow children with vital skills and emotional intelligence, as well as with feelings of wellbeing. We’ve detailed just a few of the effects of music on “big kids” below:

Memory

An article in Psychology Today describes the process by which music education translates to stronger memory: “Music training confers ability to assess the relevance and predictability of information-bearing elements in an auditory signal. So, even in non-musical contexts, such as listening to a speech, lecture, or sound track in a movie for example, musicians should learn and remember more of the content than non-musicians.” A 2011 study corroborated this, showing that musicians outperform non-musicians on tests of visual, phonological (language/sounds), and working memory. This study found that musicians demonstrated faster updating of working memory in both visual and auditory realms. In effect, music training expands your working memory capacity. All of this is incredibly important for kids in elementary school, who are expected to learn and retain huge amounts of information all theme.

In addition, you can use music directly for memorization, as a nifty mnemonic: have your kid sing their multiplication tables, or set that poem they have to recite to a tune. It will help them remember it that much better.

Math Skills

As we elaborated on in our article, “Music & Math,” back in 2018, music helps with pattern recognition, as our minds instinctively register patterns in sounds and rhythms when we listen to music. And recognizing patterns is essential to excelling in math, as it helps us see relationships, make hypotheses, and develop critical thinking and logic. In addition, delving into the math behind the music, specifically the fractions behind the music, can be a fun way to show kids how the math in the classroom can actually be applied to the real world, and to something they (potentially) enjoy.

Reading Skills

Dr. Nina Kraus, Director of the Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern, affirms that auditory-visual sound processing is stronger in musician brains than in non-musician brains. How does sound relate to reading? Kraus explains: “We learn to speak before we learn to read. We make sound-to-meaning connecting there. As we read the letters on the page, we are connecting those images with the letter sounds. That provides the foundation for later literacy. If there are not good sound-to-meaning connections, if language is not strong, it will be more difficult for a child to read.” And as we explained in our earlier “Benefits of Music” posts, music is a powerful enhancer of language and speech. And it’s not just about the sounds: Kraus’ lab has found that keeping rhythm—clapping your hands, tapping your foot, etc.—aligns with rapid brain activity linked to reading, language and phonological skills.

Social Bonding & Inclusion

Elementary school can be a scary time: you’re no longer the baby, but you’re not yet allowed to do many things on your own. Music is an amazing facilitator of social bonding and inclusion, and a potential balm to some of that growing-pain-related stress: whether your child is part of an orchestra, band, or choir: or whether they’re just singing the required songs in assembly, lined up next to their classmates, singing or playing music with others syncs participants’ brain waves and generates oxytocin, the “love hormone.” And kids might feel more comfortable opening up to their co-music-makers if the music they are creating together expresses strong emotions—which it likely does. They’ll learn that it’s okay to feel certain ways, and it’s okay to let it out.

Schools—like many institutions—are struggling right now and many have had to do away with music education programming this school year. But, as we’ve outlined, music is vital to almost every aspect of a child’s education. If you can afford it, sign your child up for private or group music lessons via zoom; and check out the National Association of Music Merchants’ extensive list of music resources for kids, including free classes, tutorials, and projects. If you have to make up a song to help your kid remember their french conjugations, then so be it.