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Making Music: The Importance of Musical Development

Most of us have heard about the various benefits of listening to Bach and Mozart while pregnant, but what do we know about the effects of music on children during their early development? Howard Gardner, renowned Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard University believes that ‘musical intelligence’ is of equal importance to logical and bodily intelligence. In fact, the first six years of a child’s life is the most critical period in their musical development because their neural pathways are still being wired, and they are willing to engage in play while making music. Recent studies have shown that if children are not exposed to music in any consistent way during this period, the potential for developing a key neural component is lost. So, how can we, as parents, capitalize on this developmental period?

We can start by exposing our children to music of all sorts, either through radio in the car, music at home, and when possible, live performances. Seeing performers work their craft, be they singers, guitar players or concert pianists, enlivens curiosity in any child. Most of us can recall some magical musical moments in our lives, and the power of music to return us to a specific memory is tangible. Attending a live performance has the potential to create such moments for our children and encourage them to develop their own musical intelligence and tastes.

Children Making Music

We can also offer our kids musical training, giving them a chance to experience making music for themselves. Not only do children benefit from the process of mastering the basics of an instrument and developing the technical skills involved, they also learn about the satisfaction of watching their efforts yield a positive result over time. If they are able to play or sing with other children, then they also learn about collaboration and common goals. When you add them up, these various benefits are irreplaceable and unique to musical training.

How do we choose a musical instrument and music lessons? My husband and I have decided to start our own young daughter with the violin using the Suzuki method, but this is a personal decision. Shin’ichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist, believed that children as young as four and five could become skilled musicians if their instruments were scaled down and they were taught at the right difficulty level. The Suzuki method has become so popular that it has been adapted for making music with many other instruments, including piano, guitar, flute, and even voice. Perhaps more interesting still is that Suzuki believed that he was engendering his students with ‘noble hearts’, saying, “I want to make good citizens. If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.”

Making Music with Children Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Photo credit - Vancouver 125 on Flickr

Musical Resources in Vancouver

Whether you decide to go with the Suzuki method or another method, there are many options in the Lower Mainland to let your kids experience making music. For individual lessons, consider the Vancouver Academy of Music or the Place des Arts in Coquitlam. It is also possible to take music lessons through retailers like Long & McQuade, who sell musical instruments and also have their Music Education Centre in North Vancouver. Alternatively, the Suzuki Association has a “Find a Teacher” function on their website. And, thanks to the likes of Ebay and Craigslist, an affordable violin or flute is only a click away.

Exposing your child to live music can be hard. Kids aren’t always welcome at concerts, plus tickets can be expensive. There are some great local options for giving your kids a chance to hear others making music. The Vancouver Symphony hosts regular Tiny Tots concerts, which are specifically designed to engage young children. Also, keep your eye out for concerts that take place in churches, as they’re usually less formal than events in concert halls. Finally, my own organization, Culture Babes, organizes cultural visits for parents and tots. In fact, we are hosting out first classical music concert on Sunday, February 26, 2012, called Treasures of the Czech Classical Tradition. It will be performed by Roger Mangas, on violin and Monika Pfau, on piano, at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in Burnaby. Roger and Monika have spent a significant amount of time in the archives and libraries of Prague and Vienna and they will be performing music that they have discovered during the course of these explorations. Following the concert, they will be available to discuss early musical training, and answer any questions that you might have about different techniques and methods.

Musical education and the opportunities to expose our children to music have changed a lot since we were kids. Also, our understanding of the benefits of musical education has advanced significantly. As parents, we want to be sure that making music plays a part in our children’s lives. Who knows? We might be tempted to re-start music lessons ourselves and re-forge those lost neural pathways!

Hilary Letwin lives with her daughter and husband in Port Moody. She works as an art historian, specializing in Renaissance art history. She set up Culture Babes as a way to meet other parents interested in taking in cultural events with their children. For more information about Culture Babes and the February 26th concert, which will be in Studio 102 at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in Burnaby, please visit

*Photo credit – Children making music by John Schinker on Flickr

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