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Music Contributes to Children's Language Development

“Perhaps the most important problem in neuroscience is understanding what it means to be human, and music is an essential part of this.” 

Babies laughing

These are the opening words of cognitive neuroscientist Robert Zattore's presentation during a workshop on Music and the Brain. 

For the workshop, the National Institutes of Health and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts convened a panel of experts to discuss the current state of research on music and the brain.  

The workshop was organized around the three life stages — childhood, adulthood, and aging. 

Over the course of a day and a half, the group noted that in addition to promoting language development, music has a positive effect on the development of other cognitive functions including attention, visual-spatial perception, and executive function. 


The first session of the workshop was titled "Building: Music and the Child’s Brain" The panel of experts discussed topics such as “how might musical experience enhance individual development,” “how can music be used to promote health,” and “how can interventions be customized to an individual’s abilities and needs". 

John Iverson, Associate Research Scientist at University of California San Diego, noted that there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that musical training has the capacity to foster the development of non-musical skills across a host of domains, including language development, attention, visual-spatial perception, and executive function. 



The panelists also discussed the benefits associated with children who actively engage in music. Infants process and engage with sound from birth, a behaviour that is believed to contribute to language acquisition. 

During the second session of the workshop – "Music as a Therapeutic Intervention in Children" – the panel discussed the therapeutic applications of music during childhood. 

The talks were focused particularly on autism and pediatric cancer, and panelists referred to clinical observations of how music may have privileged access to the child’s brain, which could overcome common therapeutic obstacles to treating pediatric populations.


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For more information on the NIH/Kennedy Center Workshop on Music and the Brain: Finding Harmony, click HERE

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