The Benefits of Classical Music for Children
Who among us doesn’t have a few favorite albums, mixes, or radio stations ready to go for the daily commute or our mile-long to-do lists? Music helps pass the time and re-energize plenty of mundane tasks. Learning to play music has proven to boost neurological activity, but studies find that simply listening to music, specifically classical music, may also have profound effects on the brain. So think twice before rolling your eyes at the friend whose bumping Beethoven for her baby; science suggests that there’s something to all of this.
What Classical Music Does to Your Brain
Universities and research groups across the globe are collecting and analyzing data related to the relation between brain activity and music. Over the past three or four decades, scientists and psychologists have compiled enough solid data to support the notion that there are neural and physical benefits to music consumption, though the immediate spike in skill level appears to be relatively short-lived.
The Mozart Effect
The Mozart Effect is just a trendy way to refer to the concept of classical music as a mental stimulant. The term first originated in Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis’ 1991 book, Pourquoi Mozart? Specifically, The Mozart Effect encompasses a number of studies that suggest that listening to classical music may instigate short-term improvement in spatial-temporal reasoning, though the benefits are short-lived.
What it Helps
The University of Helsinki in Finland published a study in March of 2015 concluding that classical music helps to boost the gene responsible for the secretion and transport of dopamine in our bodies, as well as the communication between neurons in our bodies.
Dopamine is a hormone released by the neurons in our body to help regulate reward and pleasure centers. It helps us draw the logical conclusions between the rewards we wish and the actions we must take in order to receive those pleasures. Neurons themselves help to transport and decipher information throughout the body, chiefly in our spinal cords, peripheral nerves, and brains.
Exposure to classical music additionally helped to stimulate the parts of our brain responsible for learning and memory. While the study could not extrapolate upon the exact molecular reactions taking place, there was some speculation that this phenomenon could share an evolutionary background with other species, such as birds who had similarly up-regulated genes when singing.
The University of Southern California also did some research in this area and found that playing classical music during lectures or study sessions helped elevate the participants to a heightened emotional state, wherein they absorbed information better than those who were working without the music.
The University of California, Irvine conducted some studies related to the topic, but they refrained from utilizing the term “Mozart effect,” and their test subjects were solely young adults. The study gathered 36 participants and asked them to complete mental tasks, playing them either silence, relaxation cues, or classical music before each.
Their groundwork insinuated that classical music might instigate some short-term cognitive benefits based on the increased productivity and accuracy of partakers after listening to Mozart, but their sample size was small, and they believed the effects to wear off after about fifteen minutes.
What it Fights
The Finnish study referenced earlier found that not only does classical music help to boost healthy activity in the brain, but it may also slow down neurologically degenerative diseases. Participants considered to be “musically-experienced” (or those that listened to music regularly) saw greater benefits than their contemporaries who were only just introduced to the classics.
One of the genes most affected by the music (namely, the study used Mozart’s violin concerto no.3 in G Major) was synuclein-alpha or SNCA, a gene associated with the risk of Parkinson’s. The University of Southern California’s findings also gathered evidence that playing Mozart for epileptic and Alzheimer’s patients may boost cognitive function and soothe the electrical activity in the brain responsible for seizures.
Most Beneficial Times to Listen
Given that most studies can only prove a profitable period of about fifteen minutes, the best time to listen to music to absorb all its benefits is close to or during when you intend to work.
Having it on while studying can help to improve information absorption, given that the activated areas of the brain are the ones in part responsible for retention and processing new information. But having music on throughout the day isn’t a bad idea either, given the higher benefits associated with “music familiars” in studies.
Listening isn’t the only way to glean health benefits from music. Learning to play an instrument also excites and engages our minds in new ways. Part of this has to do with the music itself, but learning any kind of new skill challenges us to exercise different parts of our brain.
If you’ve been eyeing that instrument for some time, consider making an investment. And if lessons seem like a stretch for your budget or schedule, consider all of the resources available to you through literature and online. There are a good number of basic lessons or tutorials available free of cost on platforms like YouTube, and beginner guides are usually moderately priced at local music shops or bookstores. Amazon has a wide selection for your perusal if the local market isn’t meeting your standards.
Classical or Contemporary?
For all of the information gathered to support the notion of the Mozart effect, there are still plenty of naysayers. One of the biggest questions raised is whether the music utilized to stimulate brain function and health must be classical, or if there is some benefit to be found in contemporary styles.
A 2010 meta-analysis of studies found that any sort of music will do when it comes to stimulating our minds. A study even found similar results present when participants listened to an excerpt of a Stephen King novel–but only when the individuals enjoyed their listening experience, suggesting that the specific genre of auditory content isn’t the deciding factor, but rather whether those listening relate and engage in it.
A 2006 study involving eight thousand British children endorses this theory, reporting that all children performed better when listening to music, but Pop amplified abilities over Mozart.
Try Something New: Recommended Composers
The Mozart Effect is not randomly named. While there are a wide array of brilliant classical composers, Mozart’s music is purported to mimic the rhythmic cycles of our brain. If you are interested in Mozart’s vast array of work but don’t know where to start, try with some of his most popular ones; you may find that you are already familiar with quite a few. “The Overture to Marriage of Figaro” is prevalent in and referenced throughout much of popular culture, and Serenade No. 13 (also known as “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik”) is a recognizable tune.
A brief contemporary of Mozart (born about two decades before Mozart died), Ludwig van Beethoven is another good introductory choice, given how fashionable his music has remained throughout the years. The daunting “Symphony No. 5” is difficult to forget and if you’ve ever known any beginning pianists, you’re probably already familiar with “Fur Elise.”
If classical music doesn’t do much for you but you still enjoy fuller orchestration, there are plenty of Folk artists with lush sounds. Rockabilly is a fun niche genre, with current artists paying homage to standard jazz pieces and famous swing melodies.
Jazz itself is a fine alternative if you find lyrics to be distracting. If you prefer more modern sounds, a good amount of Techno is likewise a wordless listening experience. Or if you find the linguistic side stimulating, dive into your favorite Hip Hop, R&B artists.
Even Top 40’s is included under the umbrella of stimulating music choices because the science suggests that all that matters is that you like what you’re listening to. So turn up that radio and enjoy; you’re doing yourself some good.