Research on Music and Brain Development

“In a shared social setting or in solitude, music is meaningful to the very young and motivates them to participate physically, emotionally and cognitively…in the child-care center the emotional content of music seems to unite the group…to self-comfort, individual children are initiating their own cognitively challenging musical experiences…” ~ Dr. Lori Custodero                                         

On November 1st, I attended the Colloquy on Music Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Toronto.  This event was very exciting because it put a spotlight on important research being conducted on music and brain development and the benefits of music experiences for the very young.  I was particularly interested in the work of Dr. Sandra Trehub(, who has studied infant listening skills as they relate to music, and maternal singing as part of care giving.  Dr. Laurel Trainor ( has studied (among many other topics) the effects of early music programs with infants and parents in high-risk populations, and she is a strong advocate of promoting music education and community engagement in music studies.  Research papers of Dr. Trehub and Dr. Trainor can be viewed at the websites provided.  These resources are well worth exploring!

While I greatly enjoyed the event, I found myself wondering how, and how much of this important research finds its way into the hands of pre-service educators and in-service early childhood professionals who teach and care for infants on a daily basis.  My courses and workshops on music in early childhood have provided educators with practical strategies for teaching music to young children, and examples of songs, rhymes and lullabies etc., though I also have emphasized the developmental benefits of music experiences in the early years.  At the colloquy I was reminded that it is vital to draw the attention of educators to current research that can provide deeper insights into the value of such experiences for children and recommendations for optimal teaching practices.  Too often there seems to be a disconnection between research and practice, though where music in the early years is concerned this should not be the case, given the position early childhood educators are in to make a positive impact on children and families.

That evening I wish the auditorium had been filled with early childhood educators -  those working in day cares, parenting and family resource programs, centres for teen mothers.  They would have benefitted from the information shared at this event, as I did.  Ideas discussed included: the natural music skills of infants, how infants attend to music, whether infants notice transpositions, the impact of socio-economic status on children’s music acquisition, the benefits of real experiences with a music teacher compared to listening to recorded music in the background.  What educators learn and practice in their classrooms not only effects children in their care, but also parents, as information and resources are shared forward.  The Colloquy on Music Psychology and Neuroscience is an event that I learned about quite by luck and certainly one that I would have been sorry to miss.   Exposure to current research is so vital to the work and  professional development of early childhood educators.  Finding out about such an important learning opportunity should not be left up to chance.

Just as children need invitations to learn new information and practice new skills, so do their parents and teachers.  But needed research and knowledge must make its way into their hands.  As Dr. Sandra Trehub states, “Music making creates contexts in which children, teachers, and families thrive….infants perceive music in much the same way adults do…adults who observe very young children carefully, learn to recognize ways in which they invite us to be musical with them…”.   I hope the future holds more opportunities that create a context in which early childhood educators can thrive, discover research that provides ever more ways to support children’s development and learn to be musical with the children and families they serve.

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2 Responses to Research on Music and Brain Development

  1. I really like your writing style, good information, regards for posting : D.

  2. Pat Jones says:

    I so totally agree with the importance of the arts in early childhood programs! Though I have been a public school educator for 29 years, my undergraduate degree is in music (piano performance) and I continue to use music, art, and drama in my classroom every day!

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