How the Mozart Effect Benefits Children

Classical music has been shown to have a positive impact on children, though there are differing views on its precise effects.
How the Mozart Effect Benefits Children
Encouraging your child to learn an instrument can be a great way to foster a love of classical music. (Biba Kayewich)

Parents want their children to thrive and succeed. They enroll them in good schools, provide them with healthy food, and take pains to ensure their moral and spiritual grounding. But have you ever considered the role that music can play in your child’s development?

In particular, classical music has been shown to have a positive impact on a child’s cognitive abilities and overall well-being, a phenomenon sometimes known as “the Mozart effect.”

The concept of the Mozart effect mainly started with a 1993 paper published in the scientific journal “Nature.” It reported the results of a study conducted by psychologist Frances Rauscher and her colleagues at the University of California–Irvine. In their study, they had a group of college students listen to 10 minutes of Mozart’s “Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major” before taking a spatial reasoning test. The students also listened to 10 minutes of silence, and 10 minutes of someone providing relaxation instructions, before taking the test. The results showed that when they listened to Mozart, they performed significantly better on the test, though this improvement was short-lived.

The late physicist Gordon Shaw, who was part of the original research group, went on to conduct many more studies about the connection between music and the brain. In one, he used magnetic resonance imaging to show that Mozart’s music was better than Beethoven’s in terms of lighting up the cerebral cortex.

After the 1993 study was published, it generated significant hype and what the researchers considered to be an oversimplification of the results. It also generated a lot of controversy. One thing is for sure, though: It has sparked decades of research into the question of classical music’s effects on the brain and body.

A 2001 review article by Dr. J.S. Jenkins, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, followed up on the 1993 results:
“So, does the Mozart effect exist? The generality of the original positive findings has been criticized on the grounds that any Mozart effect is due to ‘enjoyment arousal’ occasioned by this particular music and would not take place in the absence of its appreciation. This interpretation is countered by animal experiments in which separate groups of rats were exposed, in utero followed by a postpartum period of 60 days, to Mozart’s piano sonata K448, to minimalist music by the composer Philip Glass, to white noise or to silence and then tested for their ability to negotiate a maze. The Mozart group completed the maze test significantly more quickly and with fewer errors (P <0.01) than the other three groups; thus, enjoyment and musical appreciation is unlikely to have been the basis of the improvement.”
But the benefits of classical music go beyond just the cognitive realm. Studies have also shown that listening to music can have a positive impact on children’s emotional well-being, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote feelings of relaxation and calm. It can also improve social skills and increase empathy and compassion.

French doctor Alfred Tomatis and his company Tomatis promote the Tomatis Method, which uses music and sound to help children in a variety of ways. It was used as a systematic therapeutic tool for preschool children during COVID-19 lockdowns and is a means of improving cognitive function in children with autism.

I know some teachers who use Baroque music in their classrooms to help steady students’ heart rates and increase their focus. If you’re ever feeling anxious, you might try it yourself. Telemann and Vivaldi are some of my favorites, and it’s easy to find their music online. Or, for a really mellow experience, try lute music by Bach.

‘Notes’ on Implementation

Encouraging your child to learn an instrument can be a great way to foster a love of classical music. (Biba Kayewich)
Encouraging your child to learn an instrument can be a great way to foster a love of classical music. (Biba Kayewich)
What can parents do to incorporate classical music into their child’s life? Here are a few options:
  1. Start with simple pieces: Introducing your child to classical music can be as easy as playing a simple piece during mealtime or before bedtime. Try some of Mozart’s shorter compositions, such as his Sonata in C Major or Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
  2. Attend concerts: Many cities have orchestras that offer family-friendly concerts. Attending a live performance can be a great way to expose your child to classical music and make it a fun, interactive experience.
  3. Have them play an instrument: Encouraging your child to learn an instrument can be a great way to foster a love of classical music. Even something as simple as a recorder or a ukulele can be an enjoyable and accessible introduction to playing music.
  4. Incorporate music into daily “work” activities: Playing music during chores or homework can make these tasks more cheerful and less stressful. Consider playing classical music during art projects or other creative activities, too.
In addition to all these benefits, classical music exposure can help children develop a deeper appreciation for music and the arts, which can have long-lasting effects on their cultural awareness and creativity.

As a former young musician myself, early exposure to classical music opened up entirely new worlds, of beauty, depth, and devotion. Growing up, I watched my parents perform in concerts and heard classical music in church, which also inspired me spiritually.

Why not make listening to classical music a family affair? It can be a fun and enriching way to spend time together.

By incorporating classical music into our children’s routines and encouraging a love of the arts, we can help them reach their full potential and lead happy, fulfilling, and meaningful lives.

Lastly, it’s fair to say that true classical music is not only research-backed but also heaven-sent. There’s far more to it than we can imagine, and bringing more of it into our lives is undoubtedly good for us all.

Angelica Reis loves nature, volunteer work, her family, and her faith. She is an English teacher with a background in classical music, and enjoys uncovering hidden gems, shining them up, and sharing them with readers. She makes her home in New York state.
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