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Good and Bad Effects of Music on Children

Effects of Music

It’s been said that music soothes the savage beast. While that may or not be true (I wouldn’t personally want to put that to the test), it is evident from everyday experience that music has powerful effects on all of us.

In today’s world, we are surrounded by music. You would have to be a hermit not to be exposed to music of every conceivable variety whether it’s your own personal at-home or in-the-car variety, on TV, in stores, in movies, or on videos.

But what about the effects of music on kids? There have been multiple studies done exploring the positive and negative effects of music on children and while there are many theories and varying opinions on the severity of the impact on our children, experts and studies do agree on one thing:

Music does have positive and negative effects on children—the degree to which it affects them is yet to be determined. As adults, we know that music can brighten our mood or excite us, for instance motivate us to work out faster and longer. It can heighten our romantic senses or it can soothe us when we’re depressed or tired. It can energize us or put us to sleep. So why would children be any different? They too can experience the power of music.

Music stimulates responses

Music stimulates responses

Positive Effects of Music on Children

When exposed to certain kinds of music, kids can really reap some benefits.

Here are some of the positive effects of music on kids:

  • Teaches rhythm which in turn teaches movement
  • Encourages coordination
  • Can be soothing in anxious or stressful situations
  • Builds self-esteem
  • Develops right brain but also develops left brain skills
  • Teaches interaction with others
  • Increases expression
  • Stimulates responses
  • Later in a child's life, provides social outlets
  • Creates a niche for a child to fit into
  • Music is something you can enjoy anywhere
  • Handicapped children can excel at musical skills
  • Can provide an outlet for autistic children
  • Stimulates and soothes children with neurologic disorders
  • Helps children with Down syndrome
  • Can provide a calming effect for ADHD children or children with emotional disorders

What Is the “Mozart Effect?"

Music for kids can come in many different flavors. Even starting in utero, studies are proving that fetuses can benefit from listening to music. Many researchers swear by the Mozart effect which comes from a study conducted to find an answer to the question “how does music affect children?”

The Mozart effect is a theory that claims that children who listen to certain types of music such as classical music will be brighter, more skilled in terms of motor abilities, and will have higher cognitive skills than children who do not listen to this type of music.

They will also learn faster and retain more information than children who do not listen to those types of music.

This theory about music has even been taken to a higher level as researchers have studied groups of adults and children listening to Baroque music at approximately 60 beats per minute. The music used is by composers such as Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Mozart, and Pachelbel.

They have found that using this type of music and at precisely this beat-per-minute ratio increases retention and decreases stress and tension while trying to learn. It is claimed that by employing the right music at just the right tempo, it’s possible to activate the right brain and the left brain simultaneously thus increasing the learning rate by five times the norm.

Certain types of music have been found to be beneficial in lowering blood pressure and heart rates while in other cases, it has improved neurological function, memory, timing and language functions.

The study of language has also been set to Baroque music and research points to students being able to remember what they learned four years later with no other exposure after the initial learning phase.

Teddy Bear Picnic

Negative Effects of Music on Kids

Some studies indicate that children who are allowed to listen to music containing sexually explicit lyrics such as some rap music, violent music or heavy metal music have a tendency to be more emotionally charged, depressed, emotionally confused and sometimes even suicidal or homicidal.

Many people would argue this theory as in our society, there are many genres of music that advocate abrasive, loud, and over-stimulating songs.

That said, one thing that should be addressed regarding kids' music is lyrics. Children who are exposed to the above kinds of music will definitely be stimulated but will the stimulation have a good effect or a bad effect? Children tend to remember everything they hear so being exposed to inappropriate language or music that promotes violence or racial slurs can influence children to adopt this kind of attitude.

Even certain levels of tonality in music can have a detrimental effect on children. It’s said that the shrill screeching of guitars or other instruments in heavy metal music can have a disquieting effect on children exposed to it and can cause nervousness, anxiety, and depression. While advocates claim that they seem to be "tuning it out," another theory is that they are retreating into an avoidant place and it may, in fact, be damaging their psyche.

This calls to mind my one and only bad experience with music. As a toddler, my mother, who is a music teacher, used to play music all the time. On the piano, on the radio, on the "record player." However, there was one song—Teddy Bear Picnic—that I will never forget. For some reason, I had a horrible reaction to that song. Why? Maybe it's too low tonally or it's too “gloomy” or just plain too “something.” I started to cry each and every time she played it and became inconsolable. I can still remember this vividly. It wasn’t because of the teddy bears because I loved teddy bears. It wasn't because of the words because I didn't even know the words. It was just the music itself. She thought it was comical I guess so she kept playing it.

To this day, if I hear the original song, it makes me anxious and bothers me, even though I’m all grown up and I know what the trigger is.

Interestingly though, Anne Murray did a remake of this song and if you listen to the two on the videos, they are as different as night and day.

While one is depressing and frightening (to me), the other is lighthearted and fun. It goes to show that intonation or pitches can have a great deal to do with how a child reacts to certain songs.

Music for Kids

There is no one magic genre of music for kids. When our children were young and growing up, because I was a musician and found it to be my niche all through childhood and into adulthood, I exposed them to every possible genre (with some boundaries).

They were all encouraged to play instruments and all three of them did. We had a hyperactive child and music was a great release for him.

We had a legally blind child and music became a welcome gift for him. He excelled at it, and it became his solace. Our daughter played piano and danced and it helped her with her self-esteem and taught her poise. All of our children took dance lessons and music lessons. Two of them were in the bands at school from grade school and beyond.

But they also participated regularly with us at home—playing, singing, and dancing. We made music a family event. On trips, we played music as well as listened to books on tape. We went to see movies that projected the wonders of great music. We talked about different styles of music and we encouraged our kids to pursue their talents.

My children to this day love music and it's a great part of their individual lives. Music can create special moments in children’s lives but it can also help them discover a talent they didn't know they had. It can help them grow into themselves and learn skills that are later applicable to scholastic components like math and language.

A perfect world would allow every child to have some exposure to music, be it dance, singing or playing an instrument. Without being exposed to music in some form, it's possible the world will never know what it's missing. Amazingly, Albert Einstein said that his one regret was that he never learned to play an instrument.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why is some music considered bad for children to listen to?

Answer: I think that anything that scares a child - whether it is the tonality of it - or the volume - would not be the thing to do. Otherwise, if kids are responding to music, I think it is all good!

Question: Can music affect the mental state?

Answer: Most certainly! It helps soothe the soul and it can be a huge calming effect in times of stress. I listen to music when I am sad or when I'm happy - different kinds of music. I think it helps us all cope... Whether it is instrumental or lyrics - sometimes just the right song can uplift us or bring us peace.

Question: How can I improve my music?

Answer: It is one of those things that there is only 1 word for.... Practice. It is so hard to learn to do music (or anything like it) without extensive, constant practice.

Question: Can music improve the vocabulary skills of a child?

Answer: I think yes because just the more you work with a child on anything, the more their brain expands to receive more information. Music is an intricate type of process and helps children on so many levels, not to mention the soothing part of it.


Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 25, 2012:

JandDplus4 - Sounds like a good idea~

janddplus4 on July 25, 2012:

As a piano teacher and homeschool mother, we use music extensively in our home. I have a highly sensitive son diagnosed with ADHD, so we use music during his studies to help ground him. This is the best article I have ever come across on music, and I had to share it on facebook.

It's funny that you mention Andrea Bocelli in the comments. I used his Sogno album during labor with all four of my children, and I always take headphones to the dentist too!

I was unaware of the exact tempo that was supposed to be ideal, though. I can see it, though. I usually play Bach during math, and Debussy during art and reading, because different music does affect us differently.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 19, 2012:

BJ - As usual thanks for the laugh - gotta love Cassanova's theme song and of course Isaac's~ I do believe music is such an important part of life but especially for children. I only wish it carried as much weight in schools as sports appear to.

Don't get me wrong - ALL of our kids were heavily involved in sports as well but missing out on music I think is a travesty. I know so many people who say "if only I'd learned to play an instrument - or at least one in a band~~~" ha ha

Thanks for stopping by~~~ Tell the voices I said hey!

drbj and sherry from south Florida on July 19, 2012:

What a provocative topic you chose, Audrey, m'luv, and I can think of many historical events that were inspired by a particular piece of music. For example: Wasn't it Isaac Newton's mom who was forever playing her favorite tune for lil Isaac: "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree..." And Queen Isabella who cautioned Columbus: "Get out of Town and Get Me Some Money, Too ..." As well as Casanova who was forever humming "Love is in the Air ..."

Would add many more but the voices won't let me. Thanks for reminding us of the power of music.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 19, 2012:

Thanks, Helen for the great feedback - I think it is true too and know from my own experience that noise can be extremely annoying~ I think that is because I spend all day with ear phones in my ears and listening to voice. The last thing I want to hear after a work day is loud music - or loud anything~ I always say I have ESP - I'm an extra sensitive person~ ha ha - love the HSP - I think I'm that as well.

They do have studies being conducted right now on my beloved orca whales and sound. They say that the underwater testing the military is doing is severely affecting the whales, making them act oddly and even has the potential of killing them. It only goes to show (in my humble opinion) that many species are affected by noise. Perhaps we should take it to heart ourselves and surround ourselves with positives rather than negatives~ Ah well...a perfect world and all that!

Thanks again for stopping in.

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on July 19, 2012:

Audrey this is one of the most fascinating hubs I've read - it's awesome!

I definitely believe that certain types of music can be beneficial to a child and some types are negative. I know as an adult that some kinds of music whether an instrument or voice can irritate me beyond belief - now this is supposed to be one symptom of HSP (highly sensitive person) and 'noise' is one of the main factors that can overstimulate our nervous system and let's face it, some kinds of music are just noise! So I can understand kids getting negative effects and although it's maybe not proven as yet, I think they will find that certain types of music - like very heavy metal etc - will be damaging in some way. I could imagine the psyche, concentration and emotions becoming unbalance and out of sync due to continual negative vibes from musical instruments, lyrics and voices. Whereas positive types of music enhancing these same areas.

A thoroughly absorbing and fascinating read + voted up + shared everywhere!!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 18, 2012:

Thanks, Sharilee - what a cool idea to think of - classical music in subways to deter crime! I wonder if they played Andrea Bocelli - maybe everyone on the planet would be nice to one another!!! I actually used Andrea's music to get through the extensive dental work I had...she tried to give me nitrous but it did nothing to calm me down - but Andrea worked~~ I know the healing power of music - and the boost Tina Turner gives me when I'm on a cleaning jag~ I say music is useful for many things but do agree that some forms of it are more detrimental than positive - just my opinion~

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on July 18, 2012:

Akirchner, this is a great topic for a hub. I completely agree with you that music has a big influence on children, and I think we should be aware of what kind of music we bring to our children. I think heavy metal is harmful and depressing, too.

And good music can be powerful. In Calgary, they started playing classical music in the subways in order to deter crime. I don't think I heard how it worked, but it sure seems like a good idea.

Great hub -- good topic and well done. Voted up and more.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 18, 2012:

Thanks Kristy - great points and I'd sign up that little one~ Music was a fantastic outlet for all of our kids and we enjoyed experiencing it along with them to the max. I can't imagine a life without music~ I don't think my kids could either.

Mosaicman - I totally agree with you - I'm not a fan of certain artists but that said, my kids DID experience them all. (We had a fantastic exhibit of Jimi Hendrix in Seattle at the Music Project - it was awesome)....

I do agree with you on the benefits of counseling with music. I read a Jodi Picoult book not long ago about music being used for troubled teens and that was pretty enlightening.

I totally agree with you though - we as parents have to monitor everything - when did people stop thinking this was their responsibility??? Definitely true - and if we knew what was going on with our kids, perhaps we wouldn't have so many problems. Busyness is no excuse for not knowing our kids' "business." Thanks so much for stopping by~~

Mykhushi - thanks for stopping in.


mykhushi from Karnataka on July 18, 2012:

I am Amazed reading this :)

Good one....

Kristy Sayer from Sydney, Australia on July 18, 2012:

This is an excellent hub! As a nanny, I'm always interested about finding the effects of different things on children and some of my kids just LOVE music - the 18 mth old I nanny has the most rhythm I have ever seen in a kid!

mosaicman from Tampa Bay, Fl on July 17, 2012:

I exposed my daughter to various music when she was less than a year. I played my favorite artists from Stevie Wonder to Jimi Hendrix among others. I feel it has helped her to be open minded, not to mention she was able to hold a beat at a young age when singing in the choir.

I am also a counselor. I am interested in working with teenagers in using music to help them get in tune with their emotions and to cope with them. I used music as an effective outlet when I was growing up. I felt certain songs explained how I was feeling, it helped me to connect with it.

Finally there is good and bad artists in every genre. It's up to us as parents to monitor what our kids listen to. We must become familiar with the popular artists.