Have you ever noticed that music has the power to alter your emotions? With just a few notes, you may feel happy, sad, thoughtful, hopeful or a myriad of other feelings.
An increasing body of research is demonstrating that not only can music affect mood but also it can influence social interactions. In fact, evidence shows that music can be used to enhance interactions between two or more people, and it may be quite effective for autistic kids who are showing a reluctance to interact with peers, teachers, parents and others.
Why Do People Make Music?
An archeological discovery in 2009 shined a light on just how far back music appreciation reaches. The discovery included a vulture-bone flute that is believed to be nearly 40,000 years old.
That’s so far in the past that it’s difficult to imagine. However, consider how people in that era must have been fighting just for basic survival. Requirements for water, food, clothing and shelter dominated all other concerns, yet someone took the time to carve a delicate flute in the midst of their struggle to survive.
Imagine that flute being played around a campfire each night. It might have been one of the earliest building blocks of culture, serving to bring together a group of people and solidifying them as a community.
This early musical instrument demonstrates just how vital music is when it comes to instilling a spirit of cooperation in people and forming a more cohesive community. If these early people thought music was essential enough to take time away from activities that were necessary to their survival, then it’s clear that music has the power to transform lives and improve relationships.
Brain Circuitry and Music
Also worth considering is researcher Stefan Koelsch’s review of music studies. Mr. Koelsch is a music psychologist at Freie University Berlin. Through his work, he was able to describe the many ways in which music helps people to connect to each other.
In fact, he highlighted that music actually affects circuits in the brain that are in charge of managing things like cooperation, trust and empathy. No wonder that sharing a musical experience actually can bring you closer to the people with whom the experience is shared.
For further evidence, just think of the way that you feel after attending a concert with hundreds or thousands of other fans. It’s an exhilarating experience that somehow makes you feel intimately connected to all of those around you. Only music has that kind of power.
Young Children and Music
In 2010, a study was published by researchers Sebastian Kirschner and Michael Tomasello. They discovered through their work with four-year-old subjects that participating in joint music-making activities fostered a spirit of cooperation and helpfulness. Four-year-olds who were in the control groups who did not participate in joint music-making activities did not show such marked tendencies.
A 2014 study showed a similar result, but this time the subjects were infants. This study paired experimenters with infants. The infants sat on the experimenter’s lap and were bounced in time to music. Other infants were bounced out of sync with the music. The results demonstrated that the babies who were bounced in rhythm with the music showed signs of increased helping behavior.
Taken together, the results of both of these studies show that music builds synchrony among individuals. The coordination between song, action and movement fosters a feeling of connectedness and togetherness that is difficult to reproduce without music.
Could Music Lessons Be Even More Influential?
If participating in a few relatively informal music-based activities can foster feelings of connection and helpfulness, then it may follow that participating in more formal music instruction may be even more helpful.
In fact, a 2012 study demonstrated precisely this, using six-month-olds as its subjects. Some of the babies took part in active music lessons that had them playing percussive instruments, moving and singing with caretakers. Other infants took part in passive music lessons that involved simply listening to music.
At the conclusion of the study, the researchers noted that the babies who engaged in the active music lessons more quickly developed social behaviors and communicative gestures than their counterparts who took passive music lessons. This shows that interaction with others and active participation are essential ingredients when it comes to improving social interactions.
Learn more about the effects of introducing babies to complex music from an early age in our latest blog article.
Music Instruction, Autism and Social Interaction
If you have a child who has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder or if you are a music instructor who has a pupil with ASD, then you may already recognize that children with autism frequently have difficulty with social interaction.
Music is just one tool that may smooth the way for children with ASD to have more meaningful and fulfilling social interactions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2018 that approximately one in 59 children are affected by autism. Other findings included:
- Autism can affect all socioeconomic and ethnic groups
- Boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls
- Verbal and non-verbal communication may be difficult or impossible
- Social interactions can be especially challenging
- Approximately half of children with autism have a tendency to run from safety or wander
Clearly, raising or teaching a child with ASD comes with a unique set of challenges. Nonetheless, it is possible for children who are affected by autism to overcome some of these challenges through music.
In a 2015 study conducted in Turkey took a closer look at how autistic adolescents responded when music was used to address deficits in social interaction.
The researcher noted that adolescents with ASD tend to be especially reluctant in and averse to social interactions. Using interactive sessions that involved creative movement, rhythmic games, singing and more, the researcher discovered that autistic children participating in these exercises showed less resistance to interacting during the exercises and were able to sustain these interactions.
A University of Montreal study in 2018 had related findings. More than 50 children between the ages of six and 12, all of whom had been diagnosed with ASD, participated in the study. This involved three months of music-based intervention for one set of kids, while the control group did not participate in music-based activities.
The kids in the music-based intervention played a variety of musical instruments and sang with a therapist. In the other group, the participants interacted with the therapist, but did not use any music-related activities.
At the end of the study, parents in the group of students who participated in music lessons reported a far greater increase in communication skills and the quality of their family life than was reported by the parents of kids in the control group.
Researchers conducting this study asked the children to undergo MRIs both before the study began and after its conclusion. The final MRIs demonstrated that the children who participated in the music therapy sessions showed increased connective tissue between the motor and auditory regions of the brain. At the same time, connections between the visual and auditory regions were decreased. These results are valuable, as researchers have concluded that people with ASD tend to have an overabundance of connectivity between the visual and auditory regions.
How Can Music Teachers Help Kids with ASD?
It seems clear that music can help kids with ASD to handle social interactions, so taking music lessons is an excellent idea.
Teachers can help students with ASD by using a few extra tools such as:
- Recording videos of lessons that can be repeatedly viewed at home
- Establishing a consistent routine
- Focusing on sound over theory
- Provide lessons in line with the student’s ability
- Select music based on the student’s interest
Prodigies Music Has Interactive Programs Available
Whether your child has been diagnosed with ASD or not, they may be able to develop better social interaction skills through a study of music.
Keep in mind that even infants of just a few months in age have scientifically demonstrated an improved ability to interact thanks to interactive, music-based activities. These are precisely the kinds of lessons in which Prodigies Music specializes.
Our unique lessons will have even the smallest child moving to the music, noticing the beat and feeling the joy that the right set of notes can bring. Even better, each of the lessons can be engaged in with the parents, siblings, a teacher or other students, which just enhances the opportunities to develop social skills.
Prodigies Music lessons involve the use of deskbells or other simple percussive instruments that are certain to delight even the smallest child. Video lessons are ideal because they can be repeated again and again to ensure that the fundamentals of music are completely understood.
These lessons even can be geared toward autistic children who may be showing a tendency to drift away from social interaction. With these fun and engaging lessons, it may be possible for students, teachers and parents to reach a new level of coordination and cooperation that was not possible before.
Contact Prodigies Music today to learn more about how our lessons may be able to enhance your child’s social interaction skills.