Tag Archives: music

Teenagers Through the Twilight Years: Still Connecting the Dots

You thought I was done talking about music, didn’t you? There’s still more to say! Like I said in my previous blog, music is a life-long pastime. The benefits don’t end when a child enters school, and it’s important to acknowledge that. The benefits of music last through our twilight years!

If you have ever been in contact with teenagers, you know how important music is to them. Think back to your own teenage years: how many hours did you spend in your room singing into your hairbrush? The article “Music for Babies-Music for Teenagers” references a 1989 report from The Journal of the American Medical Association in which Dr. Elizabeth Brown asserts that “between the seventh and twelfth grades, the average teenager listens to 10,500 hours of rock music, just slightly less than the entire number of hours spent in the classroom from kindergarten through high school.” If that was the case in 1989, consider what it is now with music on the internet, mp3 players that can hold thousands of songs and all of the music-based TV shows on air. If that calculation doesn’t attest to the importance of music to teenagers, I don’t know what does. It’s continuing to connect the dots, even if the teenagers are completely oblivious that it’s happening.

I’ll pose the same reflection as I did for early education songs. Think about songs teenagers are listening to now, like Shinedown’s “Second Chance.” You’ve probably heard it. Some of the lyrics include: I just saw Halley’s Comet, she waved/Said why you always running in place?/Even the man in the moon disappeared/Somewhere in the stratosphere. So, how does this song connect dots? First, it reinforces the concept of half-rhymes, where words don’t rhyme exactly, which is used frequently in the poetry of renowned authors like W. B. Yeats and Emily Dickinson. Second, it mentions meteorological terms such as Halley’s Comet and the stratosphere. That’s beyond the melody, rhythm, knowledge of verses and choruses which are emphasized through music.

For those of you who want to see results, I refer you to the published average SAT scores of Texas students who participate in music programs across the last ten years. Those students participating in music programs continually score a minimum of 100 points higher than the national average, up to more than 500 points higher. Does this mean they are smarter? No. There is no evidence indicating that standardized tests measure intelligence. But, those dots are connected, strengthened and their significance is evident.

Jenni Jacobs made an excellent comment on my last blog. She said, “…We can turn on the radio, hear a song from 20 years ago and still remember every lyric… because music has engaged our emotions, our memory, our language centers, the sensory centers… and every other part!” There are songs that make me sad, make me happy, make me calm, make me excited. There are also songs that when I hear them, I am immediately reminded of an event, relationship or specific year of my life. They are forever linked.

I leave you with a study from Boston University which used music with memory tests in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The study showed that patients with Alzheimer’s, when given a series of memory tests involving lyrics to recently-written children’s songs, learned more lyrics when the words were set to music rather than simply spoken. While these are preliminary results, released only six months ago, the potential is amazing. The dots may still be connected, even in the face of illness. As we move through our lives, it is undeniable that taking time to incorporate music has a wealth of benefits, and I hope you have come away from these blogs with more knowledge of these benefits than you had before. I know I did.

Connect the Dots with Music

Pre School Music Lesson

Music has always been near and dear to my heart. For as long as I can remember, I have been singing and dancing, and they are two of my favorite things to do as an adult. Neither of my parents were very musical, but they always encouraged music to be a part of our home. Music is a life-long pastime and is so very important to integrate into a child’s continuing development.

Babies are born with literally billions of brain cells. We spend our entire lives creating and strengthening connections between our brain cells. Cynthia Ensign Baney, the author of the article Wired for Sound: The Essential Connection Between Music and Development, tells us “instead of picturing the brain as a sponge, visualize a sort of cosmic, 3-D dot-to-dot. The dots represent neurons, which are waiting to be connected via new pathways of information called neural bridges. Each time a child is stimulated to think, either new neural bridges are formed or pre-existing ones are strengthened.”

So often, we use the comparison of a brain to a sponge. When I thought of it as a dot-to-dot as suggested, it made so much more sense! It’s an image that is recognizable to parents and educators and simplifies brain development, which can often be an intimidating topic to broach. I can now easily picture how music helps create and strengthen pathways for all different kinds of learning. Think about it: when you sing popular action songs like “Tony Chestnut” with children, you’re not only reinforcing melody, rhythm, repetition and rhyming, but also incorporating body part identification, gross motor movement and emotions. (Psst. If you’ve never heard of “Tony Chestnut,” check it out!) You’re connecting those dots for children!

Children who take part in music lessons are further creating and supporting pathways. In fact, a study in 1998 at the University of Texas shows that music is perceived in several different areas of the brain. In the article Music for Babies-Music for Teenagers, it is described that “rhythm is tracked by the cerebellum, melody perceived by the temporal lobes and interpretation of musical notation accomplished in areas on the right side of the brain that correspond to areas on the left that process language… In language, sounds are combined into patterns—words. Music does the same patterning with melodic phrases.”

Unfortunately, music instruction is being downsized or eliminated in many of our schools, so where can the children get these experiences? They can very easily be embraced in our homes and child care programs. You don’t have to know how to play a musical instrument or have the best singing voice. If you do, by all means, utilize your talents to help enrich the children’s musical experiences! But if not, bringing in guest instructors who do have musical talents, playing simple drumming beats or teaching a song in a different language (Christmas carols like “Stille Nacht,” “Feliz Navidad” or “Adeste Fideles” are great examples) can connect those dots between the different areas of the children’s brains.

Personally, my favorite children’s song is “Fifty, Nifty United States.” I learned it in second grade for a grandparents’ day concert and I still know it to this day. I taught it to my second-grade class at the end of the school year and gave them the opportunity to perform for their kindergarten teachers. I can’t begin to tell you how useful it has been to know all fifty states in alphabetical order. I joke with my fiancé that if we’re ever on the game show Cash Cab and have a state-related red light challenge, I’ve practiced singing the song in 30 seconds to cover every possible answer! I’m amazed when I think of all the dots I’ve connected with that song… what songs have connected the dots for you?