The Importance of Music in Early Childhood Education

Robert Lynch, Operations DirectorCurriculum

Exposure to music and musical  experiences during childhood can actually accelerate brain development most notably in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills according to a 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute. Music has many other benefits for young children ranging from social development to even improved test scores! These are just some of the reasons why music should be an essential part of the curriculum for pre-school children today.


Language Development

While children are born into the world ripe and ready to decipher sounds and words, exposure to music and continued practice greatly enhance those natural abilities. Numerous studies have clearly determined that musical learning develops the specific part of the left side of the brain associated with processing and acquiring language. Moreover, if children are regularly and continuously exposed to music, it can actually wire the circuits in this area of the brain.
In fact, music may have a greater impact on a child’s learning development than language itself. Unlike language, music stimulates and activates every subsystem of the brain including those systems involved in motivation and emotion. “When you are learning music, you have to use more of your brain” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen who teaches music for children aged two months to nine years at John Hopkins University. This makes music an especially powerful motivator and driver of learning in many other areas. In short, music causes the young learner’s brain to work harder.

Reading Skills

This extra brain work in the child has benefits in reading as well. There is now empirical evidence that music in the Early Childhood classroom enhances literacy skills in children. A study conducted by The New York State University at Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education conclusively showed that music significantly increased children’s vocabulary and grammatical understanding while holding other variables such as age and prior knowledge constant. Earlier studies had established a link between reading skills and music instruction when taught by trained specialists in music. However, the researchers say these results provide the first link between music and literacy when music is provided by regular classroom teachers in early childhood development centers.
“Music is one very important way children can learn the rhythm and rhyme of text, be exposed to new vocabulary and learn to discriminate a variety of sounds” says Maria Runfola, an associate professor of learning and instruction at the University. This study highlights the limitations of focusing heavily on math and literacy scores and “Common Core Standards” at the expense of music education.

Social Development

Music is also quite simply a great deal of fun. Children of all ages express themselves through music. Infants recognize the melody of a song long before they are able to learn the words. Toddlers love to dance and move to the music. Preschoolers love to sing along to music with or without instruments. Sing-along games are ideal for initiating movement and bringing children together in enjoyable group activities. Music can be mixed with games that require body movement, such as clapping, waving, jumping and dancing. This helps to create lasting bonds between individuals and in groups that can last a lifetime. Dr. Patricia Vardin, Chair of the Early Childhood Education Department at Manhattanville College writes “making music with others gives children a wonderful feeling of belonging to the group. Children who might have difficulties joining activities with others because they are shy, have limited English ability or special needs can freely participate when it comes to music activity.”

Improved Text Scores

We know music is a great deal of fun but can it actually make you smarter? Many studies suggest that it can. In one such study conducted by a team of researchers at The University of Wisconsin and The University of California concludes that when children three to four years old were given simple piano lessons over a six -month period, they performed 34% better than other children on IQ tests. Some of these “other children” were given computer lessons instead of piano lessons. These results were from a sample of 789 children from very diverse social and economic backgrounds.

Research has found a link between music and spatial intelligence which helps children visualize and sort out different elements that should go together. This is exactly the same process used when solving a math problem.

In a 1999 study, students with experience in music appreciation scored higher on the SAT than students with no music appreciation: 61 points higher on the verbal and 42 points higher on the math. For students with experience in music performance the result was 53 points higher on the verbal and 39 points higher on the math. (College-Bound Seniors National Report: Profile of SAT Program Test Takers. The College Entrance Examination Board, Princeton, NJ, 2001).


Music is a very important part of early childhood education and the child care curriculum because it creates a wide range of benefits for children. The results compiled in years of scientific studies merely suggest what most of us have known all along. Exposure to music in early childhood education propels children to become more successful students who grow up to become more productive adults. The jury is still out on whether music can actually increase your IQ (i.e. make you smarter) but it most certainly stimulates emotion and motivation which leads to greater learning in so many other areas. This leads to improved language development, reading and math skills, social development, test scores and overall self confidence.  Music gives children an early love and passion for language that will form a solid foundation to value learning. So, take the time to sing and rhyme with children in their early years. It is never too early (or late) and the benefits will last a lifetime.


Gersema, Emily “Children’s brains develop faster with music training” in USC News. June 20, 2016.

Habibi, A., Cahn, R., Damasio, A., & Damasio, H. (2016). Neural Correlates of Accelerated Auditory Processing in Children Engaged in Music Training, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 21, 1-14.

Brown, Laura Lewis.  “The Benefits of Music Education.” In PBS

Anzalone, Charles. “Study Finds Link between Music and Preschoolers Reading Readiness.” in University of Buffalo News Center. Jan 23, 2013.

Henze, Alex.  “The Effects of Music on Child Development.” July 24, 2013

Vardin, Patricia. “The Importance of Music in Early Childhood.” Music & Movement, What’s New. Educational Activities, Inc., 1 Dec. 2008. Web. 6 Jun. 2013. <>.

 [1] Borgese, Paul, and Jovanka Ciares. "The Benefits of Music on Child Development." PaulBorgese. Paul Borgese, 2010. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.