It's really not hard to get kids interested in music. Almost all of us come pre-programmed with a passion for rhythm, melody, and movement.
What's more difficult is convincing parents (and sadly often school administrators) that rocking out in a garage band or tooting away on the trombone is valuable. With adults understandably anxious about children's futures in an uncertain and hyper-competitive world, is this really the best use of their limited time?
But science has a pretty conclusive answer to this question: yes, it most definitely is.
A large and expanding body of research makes it clear that music has wonderful effects on young minds, improving everything from language skills, to math-related reasoning and emotional regulation. And these reasons, outlined below, are in addition to the old-fashioned argument that self-expression and making a racket will simply make your kid happy.
1. It'll help your kid's language skills.
"Musical training doesn't just improve your ear for music -- it also helps your ear for speech. That's the takeaway from an unusual new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers found that kids who took music lessons for two years didn't just get better at playing the trombone or violin; they found that playing music also helped kids' brains process language," reports NPR.
Why? Apparently, learning to pick up subtle differences in a string of notes helps teach the brain to notice subtle differences in speech as well, which aids language learning.
2. It could raise their IQ.
It's hard to untangle causation when it comes to music education -- is it that smart (and privileged) kids tend to study an instrument, or that studying an instrument makes you smarter? -- but there is some evidence for the fact that making music could lead to increased intelligence.
"A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, as published in a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, found a small increase in the IQs of six-year-olds who were given weekly voice and piano lessons," reports PBS, for example.
3. Music improves spatial skills.
Want your kid to become an engineer or architect? Again, time to consider the trumpet or cello.
"We have some pretty good data that music instruction does reliably improve spatial-temporal skills in children over time," Kyle Pruett, professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, is quoted as saying in the same PBS piece. These skills are particularly valuable in some of today's hottest careers, like computer programming, and can help your kid excel in math.
4. Playing an instrument builds EQ.
That's according to a new study that examined brain scans of kids who play a musical instrument. "What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument, it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control," James Hudziak, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont who participated in the research, explains.
Inspired by the study, Hudziak, aged 56, decided to take up the viola himself.
5. It helps get at-risk kids more interested in school.
Struggling to get your child engaged with academics? Studies show that signing him or her up for school band or orchestra could help increase interest in school as a whole. The results of a handful of studies of music programs in underserved communities are starting to come in, The Atlantic reports, and the verdict on the effects for at-risk kids has thus far been encouraging.
"Though these studies are far from over, researchers, as well as the parents and teachers of the study subjects, are already noticing a change in the kids who are studying music. Preliminary results suggest that not only does school and community-based music instruction indeed have an impact on brain functioning, but that it could possibly make a significant difference in the academic trajectory of lower-income kids," the article says, summing up the state of research.
In addition, surveys show that educators believe in-school music motivates kids of all backgrounds to engage more with their education, making these findings of interest no matter your socioeconomic bracket.