This season’s “American Idol” singing competition is in full swing and “Glee” is a huge hit.
This recent spotlight on singing makes it seem as if every child must be experiencing the joy and satisfaction of making music. But with less than one in five children participating in music activities beyond their elementary years, we know that this is not the case.
March is national Music in Our Schools month, and tireless advocates work for its rightful inclusion in the public school curriculum. Music educators believe that all children are musical; all students are capable of developing basic music competence and should be given the opportunity to do so.
Music education is also known to provide benefits across the curriculum. A recent meta-analysis of 25 experimental studies using music education and music therapy activities to teach reading skills showed a significant correlation between music and reading ability.
Yet despite our efforts and knowledge, many believe that they and their kin lack musical talent. How has this happened?
Part of the answer lies in our incredible technological achievements, which have improved our quality of life in many ways but at a great cost to our musical selves. Availability of media has led to an increasingly passive culture where music is consumed rather than created. This trend has contributed to the common notion that the world is divided into those with talent and those without it.
And we have stopped singing lullabies to our babies.
In a recent study, successive generations of mothers were asked how many lullabies they could remember. The oldest generation interviewed remembered the most lullabies – an average of nine. Subsequent generations recalled progressively less, and today’s young parents were lucky if they knew any at all. What this means is that most infants are deprived of musical stimulus at a time they need it most, and from a source they vastly prefer: their mothers’ voices.
This also means that parents are depriving themselves of a powerful and effective soothing agent for their children. When infants cry and their caregivers pick them up to be comforted, the calming effect, once they are put down again, will last just a few minutes. If, however, parents sing to babies while holding them, the calming effect increases to an average of 18 minutes.
Babies are primed to receive the world of music from the day they are born, and it is actually the first few years that matter the most in their musical development. The amount of neural fiber in the human brain peaks at 2 years of age, then declines steadily through adolescence. This period of neural pruning represents a closing window of opportunity for more complex brain functions required for cross-modal learning. It is believed that the critical period for music learning ends as early as 6 years of age.
So what can you do to foster your child’s musical development now? First and foremost, interact with your children by singing to and with them. Even if you “can’t keep a tune,” you are providing an important model for music making that cannot be replaced by recordings, television or even by non-primary caregivers.
Help build awareness of steady beat by rocking, swaying and dancing to music together. Listen to a wide variety of music from different cultures, genres and styles, and encourage creative interaction through movement, singing and playing along.
Infants and toddlers are utterly immersed in an interactive culture of spoken language, and this interaction is key to its acquisition and mastery. What if babies were only exposed to recordings of other people’s conversations? If their early forays into spoken language were not directly and personally reinforced, would language acquisition take place at all?
Transfer interactivity to music learning, and the above notion is no longer hypothetical. It isn’t enough to watch students and guest artists singing on “Glee.” The music has to be experienced personally.
So let every month be Music in our Homes month, and make a pledge to bring the playful act of making music back into our 21st century lives.
Alli Bach is a musician, dancer and early childhood music specialist. When she wrote this column , she was working toward her Masters in Music Education at the University of Oregon, as well as K-12 Teacher Licensure for the State of Oregon. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education. Explore this website; visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram; or call 541-484-5316. The free Family Info Line is also available; call 211, extension 5, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.