How music affects your child's brain

Long before the lyrics to "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" were written, children across France sang the words you see above to the same tune. Seventeen-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart must also have been familiar with the song, since he used its melody as a starting point for his playful, ever expanding Variations on Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman (K. 265). Might the brilliant teenager have chosen this melody to tease his notoriously stern, ambitious father, Leopold, for his taskmaster approach toward raising a son? Given Wolfgang's love of jokes and clever wordplay, it certainly seems likely.

More important, though, Mozart's Variations, now practiced and memorized by intermediate music students around the world, perfectly evoke the way we humans best think and grow creatively. After all, as Mozart might tell us if he were alive today, pleasing, organized melodies such as this one do have great value, particularly for children. Music speaks in a language that children instinctively understand. It draws children (as well as adults) into its orbit, inviting them to match its pitches, incorporate its lyrics, move to its beat, and explore its emotional and harmonic dimensions in all their beauty and depth. Meanwhile, its physical vibrations, organized patterns, engaging rhythms, and subtle variations interact with the mind and body in manifold ways, naturally altering the brain in a manner that one-dimensioned rote learning cannot. Children are happy when they are bouncing, dancing, clapping, and singing with someone they trust and love. Even as music delights and entertains them, it helps mold their mental, emotional, social, and physical development -- and gives them the enthusiasm and the skills they need to begin to teach themselves.

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