Baha’is champion rationality and science as essential for human progress. The harmony of science and religion is one of the fundamental principles of the Baha’i Faith, which teaches that truth is one and that religion, without science, soon degenerates into superstition and fanaticism, while science without religion becomes merely the instrument of crude materialism.
The Neurological and Spiritual Benefits of Music for Children
In this article, however, I’d like to look at both the wisdom of Abdu’l-Baha about music as well as some the scientific evidences of the power of music and how it affects the brain, particularly those of children.
Many parents think that their child needs to show some interest or propensity towards a musical instrument in order to justify music lessons (which I explore in my article Talent or Hard Work). But based on the results of a number of recent scientific discoveries about the effects of music, it seems likely that music education will one day be given the same importance as learning how to read and how to count. In other words, music will join reading and maths as obligatory subjects, irrespective of students’ initial abilities or goals.
This mirrors the words of Abdu’l-Baha. Let’s look at one quotation from His writings in three parts. It starts with this:
The art of music is divine and effective. It is the food of the soul and spirit… The latent talents with which the hearts of these children are endowed will find expression through the medium of music.
When Abdu’l-Baha says that the “latent talents” will find expression, He could be referring to all the wonderful results that are related to musical education, which scientists have been discovering thanks to fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). Here is a short (!) list of recent discoveries from scientists. Musical training:
improves verbal memory and verbal fluency and language reading
improves focused attention for language learning
increases attention stamina
significantly improves processing speed
enhances areas of the cognitive control network, particularly inhibitory control (thinking a few seconds before acting)
enhances connectivity between the right and left hemispheres of the brain through the corpus callosum
develops helping behaviours
creates higher levels of empathy
improves levels of psychological wellbeing
assists in the development of sharing behaviours
assists migrant children with acculturation and integration
helps to develop strong social and community ethics
can preserve neural plasticity and processing into later life
What an astounding list! We all want our children to read well, but how many of us know that music training will actually help them become better readers? There have been many studies that have proven that with just a few months of weekly rhythm training classes, like drumming or any other percussion instrument, children with reading challenges improve their reading skills.
Studying music is good for the brain and for developing our human qualities, even if we never become professional musicians–even if we believe we aren’t that “talented” to begin with. It’s like learning how to read: we don’t take our child out of reading classes because they don’t show any propensity towards becoming the next William Shakespeare or Toni Morrison. We teach them to read because we want every child to become literate. Similarly, when we teach every child something about music, we do so because we want to develop their brain and their social skills, and to be able to function well in all aspects of life.
The second part of the quote by Abdu’l-Baha says:
Therefore, you must exert yourselves to make them proficient; teach them to sing with excellence and effect. It is incumbent upon each child to know something of music, for without knowledge of this art the melodies of instrument and voice cannot be rightly enjoyed.
I love the phrase that “you must exert yourselves to make them proficient”. The Master doesn’t tell us that it’s up to the children to be talented, He says it’s up to the parents, caregivers and teachers to make every effort to teach children musical skills.
The third and last part of this quote by Abdu’l-Baha addresses the requirements of schools:
Likewise, it is necessary that the schools teach it in order that the souls and hearts of the pupils may become vivified and exhilarated and their lives be brightened with enjoyment.
Abdu’l-Baha gives us several reasons why schools must teach music, and science supplies a few more. Music training helps children with their social skills, teaches them empathy and teamwork rather than competition. Put a group of people together of any age and have them sing together or play instruments together, and that group will create bonds of friendship that transcend their differences. Doing music together is like a social glue where we bond together for a higher purpose.
If you are a parent, caregiver, educator or teacher of children’s classes, or have other reasons to want to learn more about the benefits of music on the brain, here are a few resources that may inspire you:
The Lullaby Effect by Dr. Anita Collins: this very short book (also available on Kindle) will encourage parents to sing to their babies before they are even born. No matter how or what you sing, you will always be your baby’s top celebrity star.
The Music Advantageby Dr. Anita Collins: this book (also available on Kindle) will motivate parents and teachers to include more music training for the children in their lives.
Of course, study by itself won’t change the world, so I invite you to take the next step and put your learning into musical action with the children around you!
National Science Week takes place in Australia between August 13 and 21. Running each year in August, the nationwide celebration of science and technology features more than 1000 events held across the country.
Lorraine is a passionate advocate for sacred choral music as well as music education and firmly believes that we can all develop our inner musicianship to our heart’s content. Her favourite activities are conducting choirs, dabbling in writing choral music in English and French, and reading about the science of music. She is trying to write a book about it, but often gets side-tracked into writing shorter articles or making short videos. Born in Montreal, she now lives in Melbourne with her husband, Alan, and together they love doing anything music-related, in addition to dreaming about moving up to Queensland to bask in warmer weather. Lorraine holds a Master’s Degree in Vocal Pedagogy, a Bachelor's Degree (Hons.) in Music and a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications.