- By Susan Darrow
This time of year, music often plays a big role in many people’s lives. School concerts, religious choir performances, seasonal community events, holiday hits on the radio — all offer abundant opportunities to take advantage of the benefits of music for any age.
Since the magic of music is shining exceptionally bright now, this is a great time to encourage your family to use these opportunities as a springboard for making music throughout the year. Music can help families on many levels. It promotes development in babies and young children; bonds families across generations and stimulates areas of the brain involved with motivation, reward and emotion. Making, or listening to, music can actually result in increased levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain’s reward system.
Here are five reasons to make music with your family this holiday season:
1. Music-making is beneficial to development.
Music stimulates social, physical, cognitive and emotional development and promotes language and concentration skills, confidence and self-esteem. During the early years, active engagement with music promotes brain development and naturally supports growth essential to life and learning, as well as increasing the bond between children and their caregivers.
Singing, especially in groups, can relieve loneliness by connecting us to others in ways that no other activity can.
It’s easy to get started making music with children during the holidays: Sing your favorite carols in the car, dance to holiday songs or take children to a holiday concert or musical. A 2014 Harris Poll commissioned by the early-child music program Music Together (where I’m the CEO) revealed that only 17 percent of parents sing to their child daily. Music development is similar to language development. Imagine if parents only talked to their children once a day!
We teach children language by continuously talking and reading to them. Similarly, the best thing parents and grandparents can do to support musical growth is to sing and dance with their children and grandchildren as often as possible.
A growing body of research shows that participating in the arts promotes health and well being in older adults, too.
2. Music helps us create and recall powerful memories.
Music can spark the recall of lovely past experiences. It helps the past “come alive,” giving us access to deep feelings as we remember an event or moment. Singing while you decorate the tree, at a holiday party or at a religious celebration can help form memories and bonds with extended family and friends that will be recalled for years to come.
3. Music relieves stress.
The holidays, while joyful, can also be stressful. Singing can actually relieve stress. Studies show that singing has the ability to slow our pulse and heart rate, lower our blood pressure and decrease the levels of stress hormone in our bodies.
So, play music in the car while navigating the mall parking lot or sing along to a holiday recording while getting ready for company. It will help you stay calm and, most importantly, model for the children in your life a healthy way to deal with stress.
4. Music connects us.
The holidays can be lonely for some people. Singing, especially in groups, can relieve this loneliness by connecting us to others in ways that no other activity can. Recent research indicates that music-making as a shared experience can activate and synchronize similar neural connections in all those participating. This synchronization can result in feelings of empathy and shared intention that can promote positive social interaction and bonding.
When you sing with others this holiday season, whether during a religious service, at a community event or at a family gathering, everyone benefits.
5. Singing is intergenerational.
Music is an ageless way to connect with younger and older relatives and create ties between the youngest and oldest family members. Plus, music supports the aging processes. In later years, participating in music activities helps keep the brain active and engaged and supports us physically, socially and emotionally.
Sharing memories of holiday music-making and teaching those songs to younger generations can be joyous for both the older storytellers and the family members who are listening and forming new, pleasurable memories.