The many benefits of music

30 January 2018

Young boy holding bells

The Cora Barclay Centre offers a very popular Music Matters group program for children age 2-5 years old as part of our Early Intervention Program. Many people often ask why we offer music to children who are deaf or hearing impaired. Because all the children supported by the Cora Barclay Centre have hearing technology they can listen to music and from it gain lots of enjoyment – as can be heard from the shouting, laughing and singing that comes from our group room every week!

However, just as important are the numerous speech and language benefits that can be gained from engaging with music.

But let’s start with the sheer enjoyment children receive from music. Valorie Salimpoor at McGill University found that when people listen to music their brains release dopamine - the feel-good neurotransmitter - leading to feelings of joy, excitement and happiness (1). As educators we know that children are more motivated and achieve better results when they are enjoying their therapy / classes, so if music helps increase that happiness, then it makes sense to include it as part of learning!

However, music isn’t just about creating the feel-good factor. The basis of our work here at the Centre – teaching children to listen and speak – is supported by music.

Very young children will begin to recognise a tune before they have any concept of the meaning of the words, and as soon as they are physically able they will begin to try to mimic sounds and move to the music; a great precursor to developing language (4). This is why we include music as part of our group program for 0-2 year olds, Tiny Tots.

As children get a little older Darrow (1989) and Gfeller & Darrow (1987) found that music therapy provided a multi-sensory approach to helping children to remember new words. For example, singing is an intensive listening and speaking activity. The research showed that learning new songs stimulates auditory discrimination (the ability to hear the smallest differences in sounds), supports hearing and using different letter sounds, helps children break words down into syllables and improves pronunciation. (2)

In addition, children’s songs are often repetitive so it’s like giving a child a patterned drill, but without it seeming boring.

Little girl with dark curly hair holding a guitar

Another study by Chi Yhun Lo at Macquarie University’s Department of Linguistics found great benefit to speech perception for children with hearing loss following a music therapy program. (3)

For those that took part in Lo’s 12 week therapy program their speech-in-noise perception was improved by more than 2 decibels. This means that children were able to determine what was being said better in the presence of background noise than before they participated in the music program. Since discriminating speech in noisy environments is a big issue for children at school anything that can improve speech in noise perception is a huge bonus for school age children.

Music has also been shown to increase verbal intelligence and raise academic performance. After a month of music lessons a study at York University found that 90% of children (4-6 years) showed a significant increase in verbal intelligence, with an increase in understanding and explaining the meaning of words and improved verbal memory (1).

Music can also support other types of communication awareness that can be difficult for children with hearing loss. Songs that convey emotion help develop an understanding of how meanings are conveyed by tone of voice, vocal pitch and intensity of the speech. By repeating these songs in music sessions children can develop their own abilities to use these aspects of speech. (2) This finding was replicated by a Canadian study which showed an increase in understanding of how speech rhythm and intonation contribute to meaning (3).

In addition to supporting speech and language development music and singing have shown a strong connection to general education. Children who took keyboard or singing lessons showed increased IQ and academic performance (1) and in younger children there is a strong connection between developing rhythm and pre-reading abilities. (4).

As you can see music can really help children with a hearing impairment – and all children - as they learn to listen and speak, and we would encourage all children to get interested in music whether it be listening or playing.

Here are a couple of Cora Barclay Centre children getting involved in music, showing that being hearing impaired is no barrier.

 

References

1.Millis Chappel, Michelle, Scientists Find 15 Amazing Benefits Of Listening To Music
2.Wilfrid Laurier University, Music Therapy for the Hearing Impaired 
3.HEARnet Online: How to improve hearing with music therapy 
4. Bryant, Sharon. Namm Foundation: Music and toddlers. Benefits of music and movement in early childhood


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