Take a minute to reflect on all of the wonderful ways that music and the arts benefit you. You can listen to a beautiful melody on a tough day or belt out a song at the top of your lungs to let off steam. You can lose yourself completely in an interpretive dance or experience a great sense of pride in a performance well done. As humans, music reaches us innately in ways that have profound effects on our lives. Starting children early with a love for music and the arts reap life-long benefits, and it is critical that all children have access to these powerful and beneficial experiences.
Inevitably, all children will encounter stress from peers, school, and the demands of growing up. And no one is immune to these daily stressors, no matter a child’s background or income level. Slow, quiet music has been proven to slow heart rate and pulse, lower blood pressure in listeners, and reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, factors which work together to calm and relax. How many times has your child been fussing in the back seat of your car, only to be instantly quieted when you turn on familiar music? Similarly, music offers a creative outlet for children who are involved in listening to and creating music. Participating in creative endeavors provides a distraction and escape from stressful situations while helping children learn powerful mindfulness skills that will help them deal with future stress and anxiety.
Music can also do wonders for self-esteem. In the largest study ever of its kind, Queen’s University Belfast found that children and young people, aged 8 to 16 years old, who received music therapy had significantly improved self-esteem and significantly reduced depression compared with those who received treatment without music therapy. Imagine a world where all children had exposure to this outlet!
While these effects are certainly beneficial for all children they have an even more profound impact on those from disadvantaged communities, as those children often have less access to educational resources. After a year of music participation, students from low-income communities showed increased reading ability over their peers who did not have access to such programs. Effects such as these help to bridge the achievement gap between students from these communities with others who have more access to educational programming.
Music and the arts can be wonderful expressions of the self and should be available to be explored by people of all backgrounds. Not only does exposing every child at an early age give many life-long benefits to the child, but it also provides a variety of voices to inspire the next generation and generations thereafter, improving our individual communities and the larger world.