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Music and Child Development: Why is Music Good in Early Childhood?


Discover how music & movement influence early childhood development, enhancing cognitive abilities, emotional growth, & social skills. Learn from our experts!

You’ve probably heard that music is good for kids—you might have even queued up tunes for your baby while they were still in the womb. This popular idea goes back to research conducted in the 1990s, which seemed to show that people got a boost in cognitive skills after listening to classical music (specifically Mozart).1

But does current scientific evidence support the belief that music is good for the brain?

The answer is yes—in fact, modern neurological research has discovered that music and child development are deeply intertwined. It’s not quite as simple as “listen to Mozart, get smarter,” but exposure to music can help kids develop new neural connections, strengthen their language-learning abilities, and more. Here, we’ll uncover how the joys of music can enrich your child’s social-emotional learning and mental health in a variety of ways.

The Brain-Boosting Power of Music

As children engage with positive music, whether through listening, singing, or moving to the rhythm, the brain undergoes a symphony of activity. Children’s music engages numerous areas of the brain, including those related to2:

  • Working memory
  • Language processing
  • Spatial-temporal processing
  • Emotional regulation and self control
  • Problem-solving
  • Flexible thinking

Thanks to advances in mapping of the brain, we now know more than ever about the importance of music in early childhood. 

Neurological studies suggest that exposure to music stimulates the connective nerve tissue that bridges the left and right sides of the brain. This may help children develop more ability to think flexibly and make faster connections between functions governed by each brain hemisphere.3

Scientific Evidence on Music and Brain Development

As beneficial as music is, those early studies of the so-called “Mozart effect” have not been entirely confirmed by later research. Some researchers couldn’t replicate the effect at all. Others noted that the impact was fairly limited—study participants only showed improvements in spatial perception tasks (not general intelligence). And the effect only lasted about 10 to 15 minutes.1

However, scientists have found evidence that music does directly affect brain development in positive ways. 

This is especially true for children who have music lessons vs. kids who only listen to music. For example, studies have found that piano lessons for kids under the age of 4 led to 30% greater ability on spatial temporal tasks (tasks that involve imagining an object moving through space and time) than kids who had computer lessons for the same length of time.1

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Music as a Developmental Tool in Early Childhood

We’re all for enjoying music just for the fun of it. But beyond simple pleasure, the harmonious connection of rhythm, pitch, and melody can have a big impact on early child development. In this section, we’ll dig deeper into how caregivers can use music with kids for its cognitive and emotional effects.

Cognitive and Emotional Benefits of Music

Music—especially playing music, but also listening—has some clear benefits for cognitive and emotional growth. The rhythmic patterns and varied tones in a piece of music creates a rich auditory experience that strengthens neural connections involved in1:

  • Executive function
  • Language development 
  • Vocabulary
  • Number sense and mathematics 
  • Ability to learn multiple languages
  • Concentration and inhibition (the ability to wait before acting)

Playing music can also give those growing emotional intelligence muscles a workout. Studies have found that children who participate in music lessons may benefit from4:

  • Greater self-confidence
  • Greater control over their emotions
  • Increased ability to recognize emotions in others

Music's Role in Behavior and Social Skills

Multiple studies have uncovered connections between music exposure and social-emotional skills in kids. For example:

  • A 2015 study found that kids who participated in music lessons showed increased sympathy for others as well as stronger prosocial skills (especially in kids with lower levels of musical achievement)5
  • A 2014 study found that singing songs with strong emotional messages “led students to improve in attitude and social skills such as teamwork”4
  • A 2017 study discovered that kids who engaged in singing, listening to, and performing music showed improvements in depression, anxiety, aggression, oppositional behavior, and PTSD4

Age-Specific Impact of Music

As children grow, music affects various areas of sensory and motor development. In this section, we’ll break down the impact of music on kids from babyhood into the early school years.

Babies and Toddlers (Ages 0–2)

In infancy, music has a strong impact on language development. Although your baby is pre-verbal, the language center of their brain is developing rapidly. As your baby hears new sounds and picks out patterns in those sounds, they’re acquiring the building blocks of speech. 

That’s where music comes in: It not only stimulates the same parts of the brain where language is learned, it also presents rhythmic, predictable sound patterns. 

Pattern recognition is one of the most vital pieces of language development. This may be why music exposure helps babies learn to identify patterns in speech and develop verbal skills more quickly.6

Early Childhood Development (Ages 2–6)

As kids enter their preschool years, music can take on a new role. With their improved fine motor skills, language skills, and ability to follow instructions and repeat patterns, older kids are ready to begin creating music instead of just listening. 

At this stage, musical play can4:

  • Foster cooperation and teamwork – Group exercises involving music have been shown to help kids strengthen their ability to empathize with others, work as a team, and interact supportively with peers.
  • Hone cognitive skills – Music practice can sharpen an array of higher brain functions: logic, self-discipline, concentration, math-related skills, visual memory, and working memory. 

Integrating Music into Children's Lives

Child development experts recommend five ways to use music to support social-emotional learning in kids4:

  • Listening to music to stimulate feelings
  • Enjoying music together as an aesthetic experience 
  • Using music for relaxation and imagery during mindfulness practice
  • Music-making for self-expression
  • Music-making as a group experience

Here are four music activities for preschoolers that you can seamlessly integrate into your child’s day-to-day:

#1 Morning Melodies

Begin the day on a harmonious note by adding tunes to your morning routine. This could include:

  • A special morning song when you wake your child up
  • A get-ready song that helps your child remember the order of the morning routine
  • An energizing playlist that’s just for the drive to school

Our original soundtrack includes positive affirmations that kids can repeat and build their self-confidence. The power of morning affirmations for kids can positively impact how they view themselves and regulate their emotions.

#2 Musical Storytime

Enhance your storytimes by incorporating musical elements. Songs, fingerplays, or stretches that connect music to movement are a fun addition to bedtime reading, or anytime you share books with your child. 

The Itsy, Bitsy Spider and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes are two classics that you probably already know. But there’s a nearly endless list of other fun song and movement activities you can find in online resources, and your local library likely has a collection of books with more storytime songs and rhymes as well. 

If you want to create a soothing musical storytime for your child that will gently ease them into sleep, our partner Yoto offers an assortment of story and music cards designed for children.

#3 Family Band

If you can’t sign your child up for music lessons, that’s okay—your family can be your musical group! And instruments don’t have to be anything fancy. Rhythm instruments like homemade maracas or inexpensive egg shakers are a wonderful way to start exploring music-making together:

  • Put on some tunes and jam along freestyle
  • Try making up your own songs
  • Sing and play to classic kids’ songs the whole family knows

If your child is ready to start learning more, a group instrument like boomwhackers or handbells along with simple color-coded sheet music is a good first step before formal instruction. With these tools, you and your child can easily learn the basics of scales and music notation at home.

#4 Music Appreciation

How often do you take the time to sit down and listen closely to music instead of simply having it on as background noise? Sharing some old and new favorites with your child is a fantastic way to help them develop appreciation for music, explore the feelings music can produce, and practice their listening skills.

Put on a tune and try: 

  • Clapping and counting along to help your child develop auditory processing and pattern recognition skills
  • Talking about how the music makes you both feel
  • Asking questions about what they hear: What part is the beat? What part is the melody? What instruments do you hear? 

Bring the Magic of Music Into Your Child’s World With Slumberkins

Every child deserves to have the transformative power of music in their life, whether it’s through song, dance, playing an instrument, or just listening to a wide variety of genres. Weaving musical activities into your daily life can be as easy as incorporating songs into chores, playtime, or car rides.

At Slumberkins, we understand the profound impact of music on your child’s developmental journey. 

Our music isn’t just a collection of kids’ songs—it’s a reflection of affirming core beliefs through meaningful lyrics and singable, danceable tunes. Join us in embracing the power of music, where every note resonates with the promise of growth, joy, and emotional well-being. 


Sources: 

  1. Jenkins, J S. “The Mozart effect.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine vol. 94,4 (2001): 170-2. doi:10.1177/014107680109400404
  2. Dumont, Elisabeth et al. “Music Interventions and Child Development: A Critical Review and Further Directions.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 8 1694. 29 Sep. 2017, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01694
  3. Huang, Rachel. "Scientists study music’s effects on brain with fMRI." Johns Hopkins Newsletter. 27 April, 2017. https://www.jhunewsletter.com/article/2017/04/scientists-study-musics-effects-on-brain-with-fmri 
  4. Blasco-Magraner, José Salvador et al. “Effects of the Educational Use of Music on 3- to 12-Year-Old Children's Emotional Development: A Systematic Review.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 18,7 3668. 1 Apr. 2021, doi:10.3390/ijerph18073668
  5. Schellenberg, E Glenn et al. “Group Music Training and Children's Prosocial Skills.” PloS one vol. 10,10 e0141449. 27 Oct. 2015, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141449
  6. Zhao, T Christina, and Patricia K Kuhl. “Musical intervention enhances infants' neural processing of temporal structure in music and speech.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 113,19 (2016): 5212-7. doi:10.1073/pnas.1603984113



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