Music to Grow the Brain

Today, we have a special treat for you. Music to Grow the Brain is a guest post by our dear friend and colleague, Gail Engebretson. Gail probably has more hands-on knowledge and experience teaching music to children and using music to develop the brain than just about anyone on the planet. Gail teaches music in Madison, Wisconsin (lucky kids!). In addition to teaching music, Gail is also a life coach and author.


Music to Grow the Brain  by Gail Engebretson

What does music have to do with brain development?


Many people believe music, musical instruction and learning an instrument are nice but not very important – certainly not something crucial in a child’s development or critical to maintain in our school’s curriculums. But most people have not considered music as a way to enhance brain development in a child.

Music is a language, a very complex language. Music has pitch and tone and rhythm. It has texture and form. Learning to play a musical instrument requires fine-tuned listening skills, spatial awareness, tactile awareness, manual dexterity, and physical coordination.

The brain is made up of billions of neurons and as these neurons become stimulated they make new connections – synapses.  If they receive stimulation and are used they become stronger. If they are not used, they die.

One of the three main pathways into the brain is the auditory pathway. This pathway is strengthened and grown every time a child listens to music. Listening to Classical music, which has a more complex musical structure, uses even more neurons and creates more connections in the developing brain.

There have been numerous studies done in recent years about the and the impact it has on children’s mental, physical and even psychological growth.

When the brain is processing music, both the right and left hemispheres of the brain light up. It shows activity in the auditory, visual, cognitive, spatial and motor systems of the brain.  Research has shown that classical music primes the brain to solve spatial problems faster. Children with music training have scored better in math and verbal skills.

Stimulating the brain through music enables a child to have better listening skills. They are able to differentiate pitches and sounds. This helps in language development and later, reading development. Even a little bit of music training can make a difference in a child’s listening abilities later in life.

There’s a window of opportunity for creating the greatest impact through music. This window exists between the ages of two and ten. This is also when the greatest growth of language and the parts of the brain responsible for language are occurring. It makes perfect sense that music has its greatest impact then.

So what can you do as a parent to enhance your child’s brain development using music? Here are seven simple but powerful suggestions:

  • Put music on in your child’s environment, especially classical music, starting as early as possible – even in utero.
  • Encourage singing – sing to your child and with your child (even if you don’t have the greatest voice).
  • Teach your child song games that involve movement such as “Pat-a-Cake” and “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes”.
  • Have your child move to music, dance, clap or bang out the rhythm of the music – help them make that physical and kinesthetic connection.
  • Start your child on a musical instrument such as violin or piano as soon as you feel they’re ready, preferably around age 3 or 4. The Suzuki Method is an ideal place to start.
  • Use music to teach numbers and letters or other information. We remember song lyrics!
  • Encourage your schools to maintain music classes, singing, string programs and band programs.


It’s very important to keep all music activities fun and enjoyable for your child. Music is a wonderful thing when it’s not being forced on a child. Many of us have gone through music lessons that became excruciating. Keep the bigger picture in mind – you’re not out to make master musicians but rather, happy, smart and capable children.







5 Responses to Music to Grow the Brain

  1. Bravo! As a former Kindermusik mom and founder and executive director of Smile At Your Baby! I have to agree and applaud Gail for his dedication to helping children grow and learn and develop as happy, healthy members of society. Music IS, truly a wonderful tool and should be in every child’s life in some form or another, especially when they are tiny. Hopefully they will hang on to it and carry a love for music with them throughout their lives. Parents can even start when baby is still in utero by singing or humming out loud and/or having a partner of friend sing or play music to mama’s tummy. Baby will hear it! It will be beneficial to baby even before she’s born!

  2. Hurray for Kindermusik! My experience is that if we approach music with the attitude of fun, joy and appreciation, the children whose lives we touch with music will always carry that attitude with them.

  3. Thanks, Gail, for this information. Growing up as a child of a music teacher, I was aware of music’s importance in a rounded education, but now that I’m a parent myself, I can forget about its role in my kids’ lives amid the bustle and busyness of parenting. Your tips are great reminders of the ways I can make sure my kids stay connected to music (music, not just the noise that seems to bombard kids these days) in our regular lives. Thanks!

  4. I agree 100%. we not only play academic music throughout the school day, but also accompany cerebral gymnastics with music every morning before formal classes are started every morning, to opn un the brain….

    • Bless you Blanca! Your wonderful school in Caracas, Valle Abierto, has always been ahead of the curve! The education world could learn an awful lot from you. Thanks for your comment. I hope you will stop by often!

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.