How Music Enhances Intelligence, Academic Performance and Social Development in Children

by Kamilla Sonkin, Director of the Center Music School

Music brings pleasure to the lives of people of all ages. But for children, it has recently been shown that music can have the added benefits of enhancing intelligence, academic performance, and social development.

Most of us react to music emotionally. We know at once what we like, because music finds its way to the deepest corners of our souls, nourishing and enhancing our well-being.

How does music boost intellect and enhance learning? Melody and rhythm are the main components of music. Starting from a very young age, infants smile when the air is filled with consonant (pleasant) sounds, and react negatively with dissonant ones (the "ugly" clashes of certain pitches). 

We notice that music is something babies are comfortable with from the very beginning. If you play soothing music, a baby will drift off to sleep. If you play loud music, children may reach for their ears, as if trying to stop it. At a recent conference of the New York Academy of Sciences there was a report on the biological foundations of music. Evidence suggests that the human brain is wired for music, and that some forms of intelligence are fortified by it. 

An interesting fact that the brain holds a special place for music. People can typically remember scores of tunes and recognize hundreds more. When music conveys serenity, it agrees with us and our senses are soothed. We can all recognize the particularly fearful crescendo (gradually increased sonority) that signals that an offender is about to strike on the movie screen. Melody is not only a combination of sounds (pitches), but it carries an emotional content and responses to human inner need. Music also has the important benefit of enabling children to release feelings and emotions that they may hesitate to express verbally. 

Rhythm is the back bone of a melody. Each piece of music or song has its own unique print or map of rhythmic patterns. A child who learns to play or sing a new piece of music has to acquire a new rhythm, and by doing so, becomes mentally flexible and focused.

As one math teacher put it, "The rhythm and pattern of music heightens students' attention and causes even the least attentive child to become engaged in the lesson". Any information that is spoken in a rhythmic pattern will easily hold together and become more "memorable". A French teacher noted that students learn faster when material is rhymed and presented in the form of a song. The intricacies of music are innumerable, and the pre-school and primary years are the ideal time to capitalize on the open, accepting and loving responses of children and to introduce them to the wonderful world of music.