Why Children Need Music

Listening to music and performing it are important in a child´s development.
by Wendy-Irene Grimm | Source: Catholic.net
The sound of piano music fills the air at a recent Southern California party. A group of high school students sit enthralled as their friend, blond and athletic 16-year-old Jonathan Teichert, plays Chopin’s thrilling Polonaise, Opus 53.

After the final chord rings out, they break into enthusiastic applause. Jonathan’s spirited performance is the fruit of eight years of piano study. One of eight children, he comes from a family that emphasizes love of music.

Many Catholic parents are making an effort to give their children contact with good music. These parents say that both listening to music and performing it are important in a child’s development. They arrange music lessons for their children, and they seriously consider the types of music their children listen to.

“Good music orders the soul, and bad music disorders it. I really believe that, I think I’ve seen it,” said Laura Berquist, home schooling mother of six and author of Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum.

Berquist and her husband have encouraged a love of classical music in their children. As well as playing music by composers such as Mozart, Bach and Puccini in their home, they have sometimes included music as a formal course in home schooling. “Every Thursday afternoon we’d go into the living room all together and take turns choosing something to listen to,” Berquist said.

She also put together a chart of the most important musical periods and types; after listening to a piece, children and mother would classify it on the chart. Rock music was not on the chart, and is not permitted in the Berquist home.

Music and Morality

Andrew Pudewa, father of seven home schooled children and director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, has assembled a great deal of research on music’s neurological, intellectual and moral effects. In his series of talks, “The Effect of Music on Living Things” — available on tape from the institute — he speaks strongly of the benefits of good music, especially of playing it on an instrument, and of the negative consequences of bad music.

Good music, Pudewa says, has “order in variety,” a steady pattern with interesting variations. This, he points out, reflects natural creation. Besides being pleasant, this “order in variety” stimulates the brain and actually encourages healthy neurological connections.

Pudewa cites two notable studies that showed a significant increase in spatial-temporal IQ in preschoolers who played piano and in college students who listened to Mozart. On the other hand, experiments in which groups of rats were exposed either to Mozart or to heavy metal showed the significant effects of bad music. The rats that listened to Mozart increased in intelligence, while those that listened to heavy metal lost much of their ability to learn.

Pudewa maintains that music itself, apart from any lyrics, has serious moral implications. Too heavy an emphasis on rhythm, he says, especially certain irregular rhythms commonly found in rock music, “stimulat[es] your body to the detriment of the balance that your mind would provide.”

Pointing out that most Americans are no longer shocked by serious attacks on life and morality, he says, “I would suggest they have been numbed. They have been numbed by a ... preponderance of unnatural music — of unnatural energy affecting their emotions. ... It’s the music that affects their spiritual sensitivity.”

If the wrong music can be harmful, parents agree that the right music holds many benefits. Commenting on classical music, Berquist said, “The good is true and beautiful, ordered, desirable, and music is one aspect of that. ... If your children can be exposed to it early enough so that they can actually learn to appreciate it and they respond to it, then they’re in touch with something that is akin to the truth. I think it opens their minds to the truth.”

Parents value the way music introduces children to the lovely and elegant. “Music opens up a world of beauty that other things may not develop in a child,” said Jonathan Teichert’s mother, Julie. One of her children, she explained, went from a lack of interest in beauty to an enthusiasm for it, which he gained through the study of music.

Music’s simple capacity to calm is also appreciated by parents: “It soothes the savage beast,” quipped one mother.

Starting Young

Many parents emphasize the importance of early exposure to music. Familiarity helps children begin to hear differences within the music and to appreciate them. Berquist noted, however, that simply playing music is not as effective as listening and appreciating it with children: “I think the thing to do with little children is to expose them to a lot of beautiful music, [and] to enjoy it yourself. It’s very hard to get someone to enjoy something you don’t — though it can happen, because there’s power in the thing itself. But it’s better if you become familiar with the music and pick the pieces you enjoy.”

It’s not impossible, she said, to develop an appreciation for classical music later in life. She herself didn’t start listening to it until her college years. Adults who want to develop an interest in it could start with works that have immediate appeal to almost everyone — for example, Pachelbel’s Canon, Beethoven’s Für Elise, Rossini’s William Tell Overture. The comic operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan, which are available on CD and video, are also a fun way to start.

Now, You Try It

Playing an instrument or singing has a very positive role in music appreciation. Many children’s interest in music increases significantly when they can play it themselves.

“Listening to music gives joy, but there’s nothing like playing it for actually understanding it and bringing a great deal of joy to yourself and others,” said Mary Wood, whose children play violin and fiddle music in ensembles.

Learning to play an instrument requires discipline, which parents appreciate in their children. Helping to create music with others, by playing in ensembles or singing in choirs, is also an excellent experience for children.

Trying to explain what music has done for him, Jonathan Teichert said, “It’s really colored everything in my life. ... It’s not like I just play music, it’s more. Playing music has somehow gone to my soul. ... I’m a different person because of it; my whole outlook on reality is different because of it.

“People ask me why I smile so much,” he said. “It has a lot to do with music. I have something to be happy about.”

Wendy-Irene Grimm writes from Ojai, California. Reprinted with permission from the National Catholic Register. All rights reserved. 

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