Music Across the Lifespan

We all develop relationships with music.  Cheryl Dileo

Music enhances every stage of life no matter who we are. There is growing evidence of an in-utero response to music. The startle response is created by loud sounds and according to research, even the young life in the womb responds to these sounds. Infants can accurately identify their mother’s voice. Early on there is discrimination of melodic contour. Between ages 1-2 body movement can be incorporated into the music. It is unknown at what age a child’s brain mechanism impacting music perception and cognition are mature. That is why children need high exposure to a wide variety of sounds while the brain is forging neural networks. By age 4 when the brain’s left hemisphere has had time to develop, rhythm games involving sticks, shakers, tambourines and drums may be used. French composer Francois Couperin declared all children should start music by 6 or 7 and will benefit from a lifetime of enhanced interhemispheric brain activity. MRI studies have shown that the fibers in the corpus callosum which connect the left and right brain hemispheres are as much as 15% wider in musicians compared to non-musicians. Between ages 5-9 is a good time to start music lessons. During adolescent and teen years, young people begin to identify their own preferred styles and forms of music. Exposure to a variety of musical genres at concerts begins to open worlds of possibilities.

Most adolescents or adults can become competent on most instruments with sufficient training and practice. The nonmusical benefits like satisfaction, memory, creativity, relaxation and self-discipline may be as great or greater than the musical skills acquired.

For the elderly music might give an overall sense of wellbeing, providing relaxation and reduction of tension. Music can bring balance to an elder’s lifestyle. Music may arouse and bring recreation and leisure. Participating in musical activities whether singing in a choir or attending a concert can provide opportunities for sociability. Music stimulates connection to people and ideas. Music stimulates long-term memory retrieval and can maintain cognition especially if there are lyrics. Music, used with exercise and activities can strengthen extremity responses. Music is an excellent means of reminiscence, verbal communication and life review.

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