Category Archives: Blog

Children’s brain development and music: a winning combination featured in today’s Telegraph

MoosicologyThere’s a great, wonderful, comprehensive article in today’s Telegraph titled ‘Can music make your child cleverer?’

Disclaimer: I am interviewed in it regarding my book The Music Miracle and the studies on music and children’s brain development. The article also features some tips (on how to engage musically with your child) from The Grown-Up’s Guide of the Moosicology Package.

Still, I genuinely think it’s a fabulous read, as the writer has done a great bit of research to make one fact-packed and nicely written article! Furthermore, the benefits of music for children clearly need this kind of national exposure: us parents need to be more informed on how crucial music is for babies and children. I very nearly missed this opportunity myself with my son six years ago – not wanting to be a ‘pushy parent’, or ‘living my music dreams through my son’, I hesitated in introducing my peculiar obsession with music to him – so it was just as well I came across one study when he was just a few months old (in the wonderful parenting book What Every Parent Needs to Know by Margot Sunderland) – and when I started to look for more information, a whole new world opened up in scientific journals; a wealth of information on how music benefits the brain development of children.

Without further ado, here’s a snippet of the article, which you can read in full at The Telegraph site:

“Liisa Henriksson-Macaulay, 30, Finnish author of The Music Miracle, believes that she has found the key to enhancing a child’s development. “In Finland, most children go to a music playschool until the age of seven,” she says. “They teach the children music in a very child-centred way. The benefits of this are so amazing that when I moved to Britain, I wanted to bring them to British children.”

According to the PISA international league tables, Finnish children are 14 places above Britain in maths, sixth in the world in reading, and fifth in science. The country has become something of a cause celebre among educational experts, who have long searched for the secret of this success.

Henriksson-Macaulay’s six-year-old son, Toivo, has been having piano lessons since he was four. She also has music sessions with him for half-an-hour a week, and for Christmas she gave him a drum kit. “He is exposed to music of all different types,” she says.

In her book, she concludes that musical practice can produce nothing short of a “a full-scale brain upgrade”. She has also developed a system of music tuition called Moosicology, which is intended to be used by parents to maximise the benefits to their child’s development.

According to a collation of peer-reviewed studies quoted in the book, benefits of early engagement with music include improved performance in mathematics and languages; higher levels of IQ; better emotional fluency; greater self-esteem; a more powerful memory; and physical health and fitness.

Such elaborate claims might sound far-fetched, especially as they are made by a non-scientist. But the book has been verified by a number of leading academics at the Institute of Education and elsewhere.

For babies up to the age of one, Henriksson-Macaulay says, it is best to play them a range of music, including major and minor keys, and different time signatures, rhythms and scales. “In Britain, children’s songs are usually in 4/4 time, and in the major key,” she explains. “That’s a bit like speaking to kids only in verbs. For the full benefits, children need a variety of music.”

She suggests singing and clapping games for children under the age of four, and for those aged between five and seven, she recommends introducing instruments.

“The most dramatic benefits happen before the age of seven or eight,” she says. “But it is important not to create a hothouse environment, or there will be a connection between music and stress.” ”

 

Click here to read the full article – including what Alex James from Blur and Susan Hallam from the Institute of Education have to say about the meaning of music for child development!

The Music Miracle: The Scientific Secret to Unlocking Your Child’s Full Potential. Moosicology Founder Liisa’s Book Out Now

Moosicology is pleased to announce the arrival of a new parenting book, The Music Miracle: The Scientific Secret to Unlocking Your Child’s Full Potential.
Moosicology
Written by Moosicology Founder Liisa Henriksson-Macaulay, the book brings the science of music from the academic communities to the family households, answering many burning questions, such as:
 

*What makes my child more intelligent?

*Why are some children more successful at school than others?

*How can I help my baby develop?

*How can I temper those temper tantrums?

*How can I help my child make the most of their immense potential, when there are so many possible activities, yet so little time?

 

Click here to buy The Music Miracle today on Amazon.

 

“Never before have I seen such a comprehensive and in-depth review of the 
neuroscientific and psychological basis of the effects of music on young 
children. Parents and many others will be anxious to read it because of its 
very important message. Liisa Henriksson-Macaulay has blazed an important and 
pioneering trail for others to follow, and I wish this book every success.” 

Professor of Education, Psychologist FBPsS David J. Hargreaves, University of Roehampton 

“I am pleased to commend this is a very positive contribution to the public awareness of the power of music to transform children’s lives. Every child is musical. By encouraging their children to make the most of their innate musical potential, parents can support much wider cognitive, emotional and social development as their children grow. Liisa Henriksson-Macaulay’s narrative is engaging and full of rich personal anecdote, as well as a synthesis of key research findings and useful examples for parents of how music can be used successfully to nurture and strengthen children’s development.” 

Professor Graham Welch, Institute of Education, University of London 

“Henriksson-Macaulay’s book bursts with enthusiasm and a fantastic array of knowledge and suggested approaches for fostering the musical development of children. Her commitment to this cause never flounders. I applaud her.” 

Lucy Green, Professor of Music Education, University of London

Why Motor Skills Matter – And How to Boost Them In Your Child

Have you heard the news? This week, the Telegraph reported:

“Rising numbers of pupils can “hardly move” at the age of 11 because of a lack of specialist PE teachers in primary schools, it was claimed.

Baroness Campbell said there was a danger that the Olympic legacy may be wasted as schools fail to convert a wave of goodwill towards sport into actual participation.

She warned that primary teachers received little formal training in PE and often lacked the confidence to deliver high-quality lessons in the subject.”

This is precisely the same problem that has been identified when it comes to music education. The majority of the teachers themselves do not have a background in music, so how are they supposed to teach it to our children? They don’t. I know a child who at school has learned to be proficient at recognizing the sound of different instruments, but doesn’t know how to tell major from minor, let alone count beats or read music.

The problem with this is what Lamb and Gregory identified back in 1993: learning to recognize sounds of instruments, timbres, does not boost the brain. Only music training does. Lamb and Gregory’s finding was that the better your child is at recognizing pitches, the better their reading skills are. And by boosting these melodic skills by ear training, their reading skills improve.

But what’s more relevant for today’s topic, music training also boosts motor skills. This belongs in what Howard Gardner has called ‘bodily-kinesthetic intelligence’. Back in the 1960s, scientists found that when people train while music plays in the background, they are able to lift significantly more weights and run faster and longer than they did without music. (This explains why the Body Pump class blasts louder dance music than your average nightclub.)

A crucial discovery was made in 1967 by G. L. Beisman who organized an experiment on over 600 children. The children were divided into two groups that were taught motor skills such as kicking, jumping and throwing with an identical amount of repetitions and identical instruction. The only difference was that the other group was taught this with rhythmic music, and the other group didn’t have music on at all. The children who were taught through music ended up learning these crucial motor skills significantly better than the children who were taught without music.

A more recent study from 2004 by Evridiki Zakhopoulou and her research group found that standard PE classes failed to improve the motor skills of children (aged 4-5 in this study) at all, whereas the music and movement groups had improved their motor skills and balance in just two months!

Brain imaging studies now have shown that music training activates the motor regions of the brain. In fact, even listening to rhythmic music activates the motor regions, making babies who listen to music with a beat (such as drums or percussion) spontaneously try and match their movements to music! (Zentner & Eerola, 2010) This is crucial for not only their motor development but their intellectual development, as bad rhythmic motor skills predict future learning difficulties (see, for instance, Waber, Weiler, Bellinger, Marcus, Forbes, Wypij & Wolff, Diminished motor timing control in children referred for diagnosis of learning problems, 2000) whereas good rhythmic motor skills, such as clapping and moving to rhythm, predict higher academic achievement in the years to come (see, for instance, Brodsky & Sulkin, 2011).

Don’t let your child fall behind — let your child shine with moving to music!

10 Christmas songs that train your child’s brain

CandleIt’s beginning to look a lot like that time of the year again. On the surface, Christmas may hold different meanings to different people, but behind the differences a few undisputed core values emerge: family and the loved ones. Gifts, Christmas cards and joint celebrations all promote love and togetherness. Most of all, Christmas is a time for children: after all, Christmas started from celebrating the birth of a child. 

Many of the most popular Christmas carols feature rhythm concepts that are otherwise not as commonly found in Western music. New research shows that there is not a better way to train a small child’s brain than to help them clap along to different rhythm concepts. Here’s just a few key findings of recent research:

– the better your child is at handclapping songs before starting school, the more they will succeed academically from the start (2011 study from Ben Gurion University in Israel, click here for link)

– whether your child is at school yet or not, once they engage in handclapping training, their memory, handwriting and motor coordination improves (as above, click here for link)

– children who learn different rhythm concepts succeed 50% better in maths tests than children who are taught the traditional pen-and-paper way. Learning through music helped improve especially those pupils’ maths skills who were previously low achieving in mathematics (2012 study from San Francisco University, click here for link)

You can easily encourage your child to clap along to the 3/4 time signature or dance along to the shuffle beat of popular Christmas music. It’s fun, so your child won’t even realize they’re training for academic success! A win-win for the whole family.

Most songs and compositions in the Western tradition, whether classical, popular or jazz, center around the 4/4 beat (ie it’s based on the repeated counting of one-two-three-four). 4/4 beat is the standard beat that most everyone, with or without music training, will have gotten accustomed to just by living in a Western country, whether England, United Stated, Finland or Australia. Music scholars such as Edwin E. Gordon have criticized this one-sided musical diet that is fed to most children. Children simply do not hear enough of alternative time signatures.

But Christmas songs make an exception. A wide range of popular Christmas carols have the 3/4 time signature, colloquially known as the ‘waltz beat’, where you count one-two-three, one-two-three… Thus, Christmas with its omnipresent carols are arguably the easiest way to introduce your child to the 3/4 time signature and teach them to clap its beat, if you haven’t done this already. 

The shuffle beat is also present in many Christmas songs — especially in the tradition of Christmas hit songs in popular music. The shuffle beat is where each individual beat (each one of the countings of ‘one’, two’ three’ in 3/4 time and ‘one’, two’, ‘three’ and ‘four’ in 4/4 time is a beat) divides into three instead of two.

Here’s 10 songs to teach your child these two different rhythm concepts. You can start with picking just one song from each list and clapping along with your child. It is that simple!

 

Five of the most popular Christmas songs in the 3/4 beat:

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Silent night

O Christmas Tree

O Holy Night

Happy Christmas (War is Over) by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

 

Five popular Christmas songs in 4/4 shuffle time (note that this is not the typical 4/4 time but 4/4 shuffle):

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Frosty the Snowman

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

All I Want For Christmas Is You — recorded by Mariah Carey and others

Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney

 

To ensure your child’s learning success after Christmas, why not let Santa bring them their own Moosicology Package. Moosicology features many songs in both 3/4 time and shuffle time, as well as stories, instructions, colourful pictures and charming characters that help your child grasp all these different rhythm concepts so crucial for making the most of your child’s inherent potential!

Let your child shine bright like a Christmas candle! Merry Christmas from the Moosicology family.

What the X-factor doesn’t tell you: we’re all musically talented

kid with headphonesThere’s a widespread belief that only some selected people have got musical talent and others don’t. Some “questionable” performances on TV talent shows have famously made it even easier for some to say that many people simply haven’t got music talent.

However, scientific research has found that every one of us has the ability to be musical. 

Newborn babies’ brains understand music the same way as adults (“Newborn babies process pitch intervals”, Stefanics et al 2008), recognize whether something is in tune or out of tune (“Functional specializations for music processing in the human newborn brain”, Perani et al 2010) and they have a basic understanding of rhythm (“Newborn infants detect the beat in music”, Winkler et al 2008). 

And the reason why some people perform better musically than others does not come from something quite as glamorous as “talent” but rather something more mundane – plain old practise.

Science shows that musical expertise is directly linked to the amount of hours that each musician or performer practices. And many studies have shown that adults who had labelled themselves as “tone-deaf” and “not able to sing” were successfully taught to sing in tune with just a little bit of encouraging teaching.

All children love music, and many parents want their children to take up music learning. However, because of the myth that you “have to have musical talent”, many families give up before their child has had the chance to develop their musicality to the degree where it becomes obvious that they have it. All of us are musical, and all it takes is practice to bring it to life.

It can be hard to motivate a small child for music learning. But the benefits of music are outstanding: children who engage in early learning of music gain increased intelligence, better reading skills and emotional well-being, to name just a few of the benefits. 

Research shows that this is because early music learning engages practically every area of the child’s brain – more than any other activity. And the early years are crucial for forming the neural connections that give the brain its structure. Everyone can learn music, but to gain the benefits outside of the study of music, you need to start early. The cut-off point for the wide range of brain benefits is generally shown to be around the ages of 7 to 8. 

And the earlier a child starts learning music, the bigger benefits that gain! Toddlers who study music are shown to develop crucial life skills such as the ability to self-regulate their emotions, wait and be more patient. They also have a bigger vocabulary and unbelievably, they are also happier:  they are measured to smile more than toddlers who do not learn music! (see The Science)

And babies who are less than 6 months old are shown to develop better musical understanding when their parents play different types of music to them. This is one of the reasons why Moosicology works even for babies – it features an extensive amount of over sixty tracks that help babies develop a wide “musical vocabulary” – an understanding of different areas of notation, rhythm and melody.

Imagine if schools said that only a selected few people can learn to read, and wouldn’t even try and teach reading skills to most children! 

In fact, this is how it used to be. Not that many generations ago it was considered “a waste” to give schooling to most people, because people thought that only a selected few people would benefit from skills such as reading, writing and counting. 

These days, all children are expected to develop skills in literacy and numeracy. As a result, all children learn these skills – but they wouldn’t learn if they weren’t taught! 

It’s the same with musicality. Just like we all are born with an ability to learn a language and a basic understanding of mathematics, we all are born with the ability to learn music. 

So the singer who sings off-key is not “tone-deaf” or “musically untalented” – but rather, lacking the practice. Nerves come into play too, as anyone who performs in public knows well. Again, there’s only one cure for stage fright: going out there and doing it more. In other words: practice.

But if we believe in the false myth that only some people have got musical talent and most haven’t, we will never even try and practise. These days, famous scientists even recommend music as a cure for old-age memory problems and other brain-related problems (“Music making as a tool for promoting brain plasticity across the life span”, Wan & Schlaug 2010).

So let’s remember that our brains are wired for music learning and even though the most miraculous brain benefits of music learning only apply to small children, it is never too late to learn music! And if you have a baby or a small child, investing in their musical development is indeed a no-brainer to boost the growing brain.

Liisa Henriksson

 

The Good News of Why Schools Fail (And What To Do About It)

iStock_000003893953MediumRecently, education experts have been vocal about stating that the school system is failing our children (and thus catching up with what I tried to explain to my teachers as a teenager…).   From Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk (with currently over 3,5 million views on youtube) to last year’s documentary by Lord Puttnam, “We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For”, experts are lining up to say that the current school system is not serving the children nor the society. 

Their common criticism is that the schools are still stuck in an old world where it’s enough to specialize in a narrow area of expertise. For instance, Robinson says that the school system is only designed to develop university professors. Everyone else is trained to become workforce.

Yet our children are born with amazing potential. When you look at your child and see all the imagination, creativity and natural intelligence, doesn’t it wrench your heart to think that this human being would be trained to become a cog in the wheel for society?

But there’s an upside to the “failing school system”. 

Because in today’s world, the school system is not only failing the children, but it’s failing the society too. Concentrating on developing just a few skills rather than supporting the child to fulfill their potential was never serving the child – but in the old days, it served the society.

These days, the demands of society have completely changed. The world is changing so fast that the narrow areas of expertise are dying. In the beginning of the new millennium, there was more information produced within just two years than in the previous 5000 years combined. New professions are replacing old ones – and within a few years, those new professions will themselves be replaced.

The good news is that the society cannot justify designing children to be cogs in the wheels anymore. Because by the time those kids are grown, the wheels have been changed and the cogs won’t fit. 

The only way for a person to secure his place in today’s world is to invest in his full development. There’s no excuse anymore not to allow our children to develop their full potential.

Some parents have sensed this, panicked and signed their child up to a million different classes since the age of 0. By the power of numbers, they try and ensure that at least one of the skills that their child learns will still be relevant by the time they grow up, so the kids are shuttered to classes in Japanese, Chinese, French, Extra-Curricular Mathematics, Dance, Sports, Music, Art and Drama. This phenomenon has been labelled “hot-housing” or “pushy parenting”.

They are all wonderful hobbies by the way! And nothing beats early learning. It’s just that experts are worried that children miss out on developing their most important assets – namely, their character, emotional well-being, and ironically, learning skills, if they continuously miss out on the most important component of a healthy childhood (besides parental love): free imaginative play. Because free play allows children to learn on their own terms.

Child development experts from Rousseau, Dewey and Montessori onwards have always emphasized that children should be allowed to develop their full potential. But rather than meaning that everyone has to become experts at everything, this means that we all have our own unique capabilities (as well as flaws), and that our multiple talents cannot be graded as easily as the old-fashioned and partial school grade system implies. Howard Gardner’s famous idea of multiple intelligences emphasizes that what the schools are focusing on is indeed a narrow slice of human abilities. A bit of mathematics, a bit of reading and writing (for secretarial purposes rather than expressive).

Interestingly, Howard Gardner says that there are at least 9 types of intelligences and that out of these, the school system only focuses on a mere two: Logical-Mathematical and Linguistic.

Howard Gardner’s famous list of intelligences includes these types of intelligence: Logical-mathematical, Spatial, Linguistic, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalistic, Existential/Spiritual.

What I find fascinating is that not only is “musical intelligence” considered as its own type of intelligence, but that according to a growing number of scientific research, music learning boosts almost all of these other types of intelligence!

Let’s have a look at the intelligences again:

*Logical-mathematical intelligence. Early music learning is shown to increase mathematical skills and IQ, the standard measure for logical intelligence and reasoning abilities.

*Spatial intelligence. An array of research by Frances Raucher and her research team shows evidence that early music learning in childhood boosts spatial-temporal intelligence (this is measured by spatial-temporal IQ).

*Linguistic intelligence. Nothing boosts linguistic abilities, language development and reading skills like early music learning. Children, even toddlers, who study music, develop a bigger vocabulary, better linguistic intelligence and better reading skills. Brain research has even shown that this is because music and languages reside in the same brain networks. Lack of sufficient awareness of pitch is even linked to reading difficulties such as dyslexia, and music learning counteracts this!

*Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence. Instrument playing is shown to boost motor skills. And early rhythmic learning and coordination, before a child is even old enough to learn an instrument, is shown to boost the child’s all-round development and even intelligence.

*Musical intelligence. Ditto, musical learning boosts musical intelligence.

*Interpersonal intelligence. This is “social intelligence”. Children who study music are shown to be, in general, better adapted socially, have better social skills and even have more friends!

*Intrapersonal intelligence. This is “self-awareness”. Toddlers who study music are shown to have better “self-regulation skills” – they are more patient when waiting and have better control of their emotions because they are more able to calm themselves down in a stressful situation.

*Naturalistic intelligence. I must admit, I haven’t come across any research that says that music learning boosts natural intelligence. Outdoor play is the only way!

*Existential/Spiritual intelligence. Every musician knows – although they may vary the terms that they use – that making music, and even listening to it, could often and easily be labelled as a “spiritual” experience. For me, music has always been the innocent place where I can return to, where everything is well – that world of childhood happiness and imagination. Although scientists could say that it is because music has the same euphoric effect on the brain as some infamous drugs! (Which I have personally never experienced, but these scientists have done brain scans and shown that music activates the same “intensely rewarding” brain regions as cocaine.) Music learning also boosts scientific thinking, thought to play a part in existential intelligence.

So, in this day and age, schools should take heed and focus on nurturing each child’s unique gifts – and give a wide opportunity for them to develop.

And if you are a parent and want to boost your child’s overall development, remember that the scientists say that the school system boosts only 2 types of intelligences in your child, and music learning boosts an unbelievable 8 out of 9! As for Sir Ken Robinson’s views on schools that kill creativity – nothing fosters creativity better than the full development of self and investing in one’s multiple intelligences – for true “lateral thinking”!

Liisa Henriksson