Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: Music is hugely important to children — whether it gets them to sing, dance or play

Published: Friday, March 2 2012 12:30 p.m. MST

Before I had children, I used to love watching tiny toddlers waggle and bounce to the beat of a song. When my son was around 6 months old, I enrolled him in a Music Together class in Salt Lake City. I wanted him to experience the joy and creative exploration of music.

Surprisingly, my son wasn’t like most toddlers. I noticed he rarely — if ever — actually danced or moved along to music. I was perplexed and maybe somewhat worried that my son perhaps wouldn’t like music when it has been such a huge and important part of my life.

Then around age 2, something wonderful happened. Instead of hearing a song and being moved to dance, he was moved to do something else: sing.

This I was happy with!

Now he’s 3 years old and sings constantly. He has many songs memorized, and his all-time favorite CD to listen to when we’re in the car is the “Cars” soundtrack. Interestingly enough, it’s not the songs with words he’s drawn to — he likes the instrumental, orchestral numbers the most. He has a unique ability to listen to the cadence of a song and repeat it back almost note for note. My husband and I have half-seriously joked that he’d probably do very well as a composer or symphony conductor someday.

Contrast this with my 1-year-old son — a mover. He loves dancing. I’ve caught him several times pushing the same buttons over and over on a little musical toy we have and then twirling around in time to the beat. He’s so young, and yet he can make out and put into his body the rhythm of a song.

Both of these examples support Music Together’s theory "that all children are musical."

My children are also drawn to the Baby Einstein movies that introduce classical music selections from composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Mozart.

“Classical music has a more complex musical structure,” says Diane Bales, Ph.D., in her article “Building Baby’s Brain: The Role of Music.” Bales goes on to say, “Babies as young as 3 months can pick out that structure and even recognize classical music selections they have heard before.”

There has been quite a bit of controversy over whether Baby Einstein products can make babies “smarter.” This I don’t know, but I do know the music in the DVDs has helped both my boys to understand music structure as well as improve memorization and recognition skills. Plus, they are very calming and interactive DVDs that I feel serve a better educational purpose than many popular TV shows created for toddlers today.

So why the emphasis on classical music?

“Researchers think the complexity of classical music is what primes the brain to solve spatial problems more quickly,” Bales goes on to say. “So listening to classical music may have different effects on the brain than listening to other types of music.”

According to a study funded by the Connecticut Assembly and the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with Action for Bridgeport Community Development (Charles Tisdale, director), conducted among preschool-age children, the skills and learning styles implemented in the Music Together programs helped improve learning in four different areas: cognitive gains (problem-solving), language acquisition and verbal fluency, physical developmental domain (coordination) and social-emotional developmental domain (self-esteem, self confidence.)

“The conclusions from these studies counter the current trend in schools to reduce or eliminate music and other arts programs from school curricula to make time for extra reading and math,” said Lili M. Levinowitz, Ph.D., professor of music education at Rowan University and director of research for Music Together LLC.

I’ll never forget the first time my 18-month-old son repeated tonal patterns — the pattern of several notes in a row — back to the teacher in the exact pitch and key she sang it in. Even though his speech was still improving, his music comprehension skills were leaps and bounds ahead.

I believe in and have seen the results of the power of music and development. I am a huge advocate for introducing and encouraging musicality in the home and in the lives of children early on in their lives — even from the womb.

It doesn’t matter whether that music encourages your child to move, sing or play — just that it’s a part of their lives.

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.

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