WHICH MUSIC SUBJECTS, STUDIES & INSTRUMENTS
CONTRIBUTE TO THE SOCIAL, EMOTIONAL
AND COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT IN CHILDREN?
While the cognitive and emotional benefits of music are widely recognized, not all systems maximise these advantages - if this were the case then all children in school and community music programs would uniformly exhibit enhanced intelligence. There are definitely advantageous combinations of subjects, methodologies and instruments.
How does music study influence the brain:
Simultaneous neural connectivity in differing areas of the brain is known to improve cognitive ability. Certain music study is uniquely positioned to create connections between neural regions that don't typically interact, like associating the sound of a musical note with its name, or integrating a motor task with a mathematical pattern. The most efficient and profound musical tasks that create these connections are found in bilateral training involving both body sides, cross-modal training that links multiple sensory modalities, embodied cognition/breathing/tone production, divergent thinking/spontaneity/improvisation, and pattern recognition & maths.
What instruments and musical approaches work - music is closely related to learning a language.
In the early language acquisition phase of a child's life they need to hear perfect sounds and harmonies to record them in their musical memory. Pitch memory is like an accent so you must hear to copy correctly, so sound introduced to a young musician - including their own sound - should be in sync, in tune and cognitively resonant. It should also involve harmony/chords. Instruments are secondary to subjects - that means it's more important to have rhythm than to just play drums. A fluent musician studies all music subjects and this also works for the brain because we want to associate all musical subjects in complex neural connections. These typically involve rhythm, pitch, harmony, technique, theory, language, patterns and maths. These aspects are only found by combining 3 main instruments. Keyboard, drums, voice, and to a lesser degree, guitar.
Challenge and struggle are not the same. What doesn't work.
Children should have easy access to these principles without struggle. Limit instructional clutter by using instruments that are the easiest to play and instantly produce perfect sound - we want to challenge the brain and focus on music, not confusion and strain. Struggling with physically difficult instruments is an obstacle to 'flow' or engagement which is vital for learning, and most of the difficult instruments are not suited for rhythm, harmony and accurate pitch. There is no advantage to giving a child a difficult instrument, particularly monophonic instruments that take more than 5 years to sound accurate.
4 MUSIC SYSTEMS TO IMPROVE COGNITION
There are four learning systems most associated with improved cognitive and emotional benefits, arising from specific keyboard studies involving pitch perception / tonal labeling and harmony (more than one note played at the same time), rhythm and bilateral coordination, improvisation or divergent thinking, and vocalizing in pitch and numbers. Additionally, a synergy of these systems further amplifies the dimensions of learning and well-being.
Bilateral Coordination, Patterns, and Maths:
Engaging in bilateral patterns, such as drum rudiments, enhances brain function by hamonizing coordination, cognitive skills, and mathematical patterns across both hemispheres of the brain. Synchronized hand movements in rhythmic sequences with a mathematical dimension create complex neural networks that augment brain function. The corpus callosum facilitates the transfer of motor, sensory, and cognitive information between the brain's hemispheres, fostering a more integrated and efficient brain operation, and significantly benefitting memory, attention, and cognitive flexibility, while the stress-reducing nature of these rhythmic patterns influences emotional expression and overall well-being. The cognitive and emotional benefits extend beyond musical contexts.
Pitch Coding, Tonal Labeling, Cross-Modal Learning:
Paired-associate learning in pitch training, or connecting names to musical pitches, yields significant cognitive benefits. This multi-brain learning process involves collaborative cognitive functions in forming associations, and connects the auditory and language processing areas of the brain. It also enhances auditory discrimination, refining sensitivity to musical nuances, and the neural associations improve overall memory recall, deepening the understanding of musical structures. Beyond musical proficiency, pitch training supports cross-modal transfer, positively impacting other sensory modalities.
Improvisation, Divergent Thinking:
Musical improvisation, marked by spontaneous creation, offers diverse cognitive, emotional, and neural benefits. It demands cognitive flexibility, stimulating brain regions tied to creativity and problem-solving. Serving as a unique outlet for emotional expression, improvisation deepens the connection with music. Neuroimaging studies using fMRI reveal distinct brain activation patterns compared to linear playback, or playing something you already know. Improvisation engages higher prefrontal cortex activity, emphasizing its demand for divergent thinking and neuroplasticity. The unpredictability of improvisation correlates with heightened dopaminergic activity, contributing to positive emotional experiences. This research underscores the holistic cognitive, emotional, and neurobiological advantages of musical improvisation.
Vocalizing, Embodied Cognition:
Singing involves cognitive processes deeply interconnected with the body and its experiences. Through practices that integrate cognitive functions with sensory and motor experiences, individuals enhance their overall embodied cognition, fostering a more integrated and efficient relationship between the mind and body. The integration of auditory pitch processing, pattern and language recognition, combined with controlled breathing for mental calmness, results in a dynamic cross-modal processing environment in the brain, engaging multiple sensory and cognitive pathways. Additionally, singing stimulates emotional expression and regulation, leveraging the brain's limbic system, which is involved in emotional processing. This aspect not only enhances the emotional depth of the experience but also contributes to mental well-being and resilience.