Updated: Jul 12
By Christy | The Practicing Pro
This blog is part 1 of the memory series. To learn more, see blogs #58 and #61.
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Learning to play music by ear, remembering songs without any sheet music and being able to harmonize on demand- these are skills that many adults who start music later in life spend years mastering.
Yes! Me included!
I recently started singing lessons again since my university days when I dabbled in a tiny bit of opera (so it’s been a while!). I saw a film with Meryll Streep singing a contemporary belting Broadway-style and thought if she still can sing like that then it’s not too late for me to learn!
Now I am experiencing firsthand that learning and remembering new things is hard, especially when it’s new to you for the very first time! Wow, for me in my 50s, it is much much harder now than it was in my 20s for sure. But, then what about children and even babies.
It is so much easier for babies and young children to learn new skills even later in life when they are exposed to them in their earlier years.
The younger a person can start learning music, the easier it will be for them. Just like children learning languages by being immersed in them from an early age - music too is a language, and the process is exactly the same. When we are born, our brains are like little sponges. They absorb everything that we hear, smell, touch or taste in order to better understand the new world around us. Like when a baby puts an object right into their mouth as soon as they pick it up? Luckily it only lasts a little while, because I remember grabbing in the nick of time some really yucky things from my kids before they discovered what they tasted like!
Why do they do this?
Babies explore their world through their senses. The more that they explore, the more that they learn. And tasting an object and feeling it’s texture is just another way that they are curious about their surroundings and take in more information.
The rate a baby learns is staggering.
A baby’s brain is not fully developed when they are born. From birth to the age of five, a child’s brain develops more quickly than at any other time in their life. In their first year of life, a child’s brain DOUBLES in size! Although your brain contains all the brain cells (called neurons) that you will have for the rest of your life when you are born, it’s actually the connections between these cells (called synapses) that are the basis of learning. When a child is young, the rate at which these new learning connections are made is amazing - at least one million new neural connections every SECOND.
I know that my brain definitely isn’t working that quickly, especially at 6:30 am in the mornings when I am walking to the Suzuki school to teach teens their violin lessons before school!
Children’s potential for learning in those first 5 years is incredible. That is why it is so important to take advantage of their amazing sponge brains those first years to make those music milestones be achieved more easily later on.
By exposing babies to music, their brain starts forming those neural connections and they begin the groundwork to later learn about melodies, octaves, harmonies, etc. More on that early childhood brain development here.
Did you know that babies can actually hear and respond to music in the womb? Studies show that in the last trimester of pregnancy, babies are able to hear a range of musical tones. They can even start to remember them! It was found that babies that hear the same song over and over again will likely recognize the melody later after they are born. How cool is that?! To read more about this, check out this article.
In the Suzuki program, pregnant mothers and families are encouraged to start the habit of listening to music daily for the baby to benefit in the last trimester. Also, because it’s a habit that might take parents a while to get really good at. This listening to music everyday habit will be the NUMBER ONE thing later that will help the child to learn faster and easier. So it’s not just for the baby, but also for the parents.
They say music is good for the soul. And babies agree! Another interesting study I found says that one-year-old babies that participate in interactive music classes with their parents have better communication skills. They also smile more and they show earlier and more advanced brain responses to music. If that’s not motivation to sign up for a SECE class I don’t know what is! More on that here.
It’s clear that starting a child in music as early as possible (even in utero!) has wonderful benefits on their learning, development, and future grasp of music. To put it in another context - think about learning a new language. Let’s say two people want to learn German. Neither of them currently speak or understand the language, but one of them spent the first few years of their life living in Germany. As a baby they went to a German-speaking daycare facility, went grocery shopping with their parents in a German supermarket, listened to German radio in the car, etc. Chances are, even though that person doesn’t know German now, they will have an easier time picking up the language than the one who was never exposed to the language before. That is because of those early brain connections that were made way back when they were a baby. It’s the same with music! If your child wants to learn violin, they will have an easier time if they grew up listening to violin music and had fun, interactive play involving music. So make use of those sponge brains and start early - it’s never too early to introduce music into your child’s life. Plus, is there anything cuter than a toddler in a diaper dancing like no one is watching?
I had a photo for years on my wall of my youngest in a diaper with a violin. It always warmed my heart when I saw it!
You can enroll in a music program for babies/toddlers. We have the SECE - Suzuki Early Childhood Education program at our school and it is INCREDIBLE! What do you look for in an early music childhood program? Look for the bulk of the class to be repetition. Children and babies need to do the same songs over and over for months and years. Choose a program based on repetition instead of variety. This will make your child smarter faster and make it easiest for them to learn. This is also what they like! Last night I was chatting with my daughter and she was telling me about how her 2 year old wanted to watch the same Disney short with Jack-Jack, the baby from Incredibles over and over! He just never gets tired of it! Children LOVE and NEED repetition.
If you don't have a music program available to you no worries! Fill your home with wonderful music and make sure you repeat a chunk of the songs you choose over and over. Then have another smaller part that you expose your child to as many differences in music that you can.
The Suzuki repertoire was chosen to help develop beautiful, kind hearts. I suggest starting there as the "main meal".
For violin - this is my favorite series of recordings:
International Edition, performed by Hilary Hahn -Suzuki Violin (on Apple Music)
Listen to this music everyday then after listen to new things! I strongly suggest that you play world music from all countries and backgrounds for the "appetizer", and dessert" in your daily music listening at home.
I LOVE Putumayo World Music. Check them out. This is a great one to start with!
This is the first blog in a series all about “memory” - today we talked about starting your listening and learning as young as possible.
If you start regular weekly music lessons with your child at 3 years old or lessons at 6 years old - either way, listening at home to music before that is a sure way to learn faster and easier.
Choose your music carefully - I suggest Classical with more keys and complex rhythms as the repetition part and then all styles - pop, rock, jazz, fiddle and especially World music next. Listen to a variety every few days, weeks, or months.
This will expose them to different sounds, instruments, beats, and rhythms.
Check out my Free PDF download Checklist for a Successful Music Practice for teachers and practicing parents.
Your easy checklist for successful home music practices from Christy, the practicing pro. Whether you are a new or seasoned practice parent or music teacher, this checklist will help you organize before, during, and after practices for effective and fun practices.
INVITATION from Christy Hodder:
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