By Bindu Subramaniam, SaPa India & Co-Founder
It’s no secret that children love music. Babies have a favourite lullaby, and toddlers have a favourite song. However, there is a much deeper connection between structured music education and a child’s overall growth and development. Engaging children in musical activities is more than just a fun exercise; it also helps the child grow holistically.
My doctoral thesis was all about the importance of integrating music into the curriculum, as early as possible. I have always known music to be much more than a feel-good element; it is a powerful tool capable of large-scale change. To ensure that parents and educators both see its value, I drew on studies and anecdotes from around the world, and combined them with my personal experience as an educator. I’ve included some of my most powerful learnings here.
Since music is one of the only activities that requires you to use your whole brain, this leads to many different benefits:
It develops language skills: Research has shown that early childhood is the best time to learn a second language, as the child is more likely to retain fluency in both languages over time. Besides, the brain processes language musically, so introducing children to music will show parallel benefits in language development as well. A five-year study by neuroscientists from the University of Southern California shows that music education can speed up brain development in children, and especially help with language development, reading abilities, and speech perception.
It helps them transition more easily into formal education: Music is a gateway to developing skills that children will use in school. For instance, group activities will teach them team spirit, and learning an instrument or singing will teach them the value of practice and patience. Tapping into the power of persistence at a young age will make sure children are ready for all the challenges of formal education.
It helps them absorb their school work better: Many mathematical and scientific concepts (like string theory, friction, or patterns) can be explained using examples from the world of music. For instance, why does the violin sound higher-pitched than the double bass? How can vocal percussion be used to explain structured mathematical patterns? When children build a strong foundation in the arts (both in practice and in understanding the theory behind it), schoolwork becomes an easier journey – grounded in practicality and not in rote learning.
It helps them think entrepreneurially: Panos Panay, founding managing director of Berklee ICE (Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship), discussed the value of music education in building an entrepreneurial bent of mind. Learning music teaches children to listen, collaborate, work with discipline, and get up after failing over and over again. These are all qualities seen in successful entrepreneurs, leaders, and changemakers everywhere.
I have been extremely lucky to see these studies coming to life in my experience as an educator. We’ve seen children sing what they’ve learnt to their baby brothers and sisters; and we noticed that, as they get older, the younger siblings are able to absorb the program much more quickly as a result of early exposure. Early music education is a bonding experience like no other, connecting people across age groups and generations. For instance, we recently received a video of our four-year-old student teaching her grandmother to sing what she learnt. She patiently sang the song one line at a time, and her grandmother repeated after her.
Among some of the most powerful testaments to the value of music education is the story of a young student, on the autistic spectrum, who didn’t speak a word throughout the school year. At the end of the year, however, the child went up to the teacher and sang all the songs they’d learnt through the year. It reminded me that every child engages with music in their own way, and reinforced my vision to make music education accessible to every child.
While music is important for its own sake, it is especially crucial because of the benefits it brings. And it is wonderful to see that policy makers now recognise music for the value it adds. It was an honour to share some of my inputs with the members of the National Education Policy Draft Committee a few years ago; this year, I was delighted to see that it placed a greater emphasis on the need to integrate the arts into the curriculum.
The National Education Policy is a brilliant read, developed by some of the finest minds in the country, and I was especially struck by its recommendations to bridge the science-arts gap. What’s even better is that this sentiment seems to echo around the world today. What was known as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is now STEAM, with the arts integrated into the framework of formal education.
We are standing in the face of an uncertain future. We don’t know what jobs will be automated, or what skillsets we’re preparing young children to carry into their careers. All we can say for sure is that what we need are well-rounded, compassionate people taking charge. And music has shown itself to be the most effective gateway to achieving just that.