Your Child's Brain on Drugs

Observing your child respond to music and musical activities is, haha, sort of a hobby of mine. Which is a good thing, because there is a LOT to observe in our classes together. Infants’ eyes following our body motions, toddlers imitating our “UP….DOWN” pitch exercises, three-year-olds starting to sing along, or even substituting words into the songs exercising their vocabularies that seem to double in size between every class! There are responses to the music going on that I can’t observe (nyah, nyah, neither can you!), at least not directly. What I am referring to is the stimulations inside a child’s brain that are caused by all the music-making in class (and at home, and in the car, and at grandpa’s, etc.). Child development researchers are recognizing all sorts of new causes-and-effects in their areas of study and fleshing out elaborate series of connections between what goes into the bodies and brains of young children and what comes out (expressed by personality, talents, dispositions, etc.) as children grow into adolescence and adulthood. Consequently, I can experience a child’s brain development “third-hand” by reading along, so to speak, and following the results of said child development research. Fascinatingly, the research from the “labs” provides us with some context to make better interpretations of the inner-workings of the child based on what we can see in the classroom (um, for us, that would be a dance studio).

One area of study in brain functioning and development is the way endorphins are generated in one’s body to “enhance” brain activity. (Aha, the “drug” reference from above!) In a sentence, endorphins are chemicals that help brains be more, um, happy(?) by suppressing feelings that are not-happiness conducing (like mild depression). This is a good thing; humans and our mammal kin have been doing it successfully for millennia. Where I get really fascinated is finding that recent research shows that music can help the creation of endorphins. But not just passively listening to music, instead endorphins come about when one is actively making music. And, good news, “making music” gets a pretty broad scope in this context. Playing Beethoven sonatas on the pianoforte, sure, but also basic strumming, drumming, dancing, singing. Ta DA! You and I do that sort of thing in music class all the time. I trust you do more of the same at home, in the car, at grandpa’s; a lot of endorphins get generated in these situations. (All entirely legal in Illinois.) This is good in the moment and pays off in the future. Big picture-wise, you are helping your child develop skills that will come in handy throughout his or her long life to bring on the endorphins, and literally sing the blues away!