Music Therapy for Kids Makes a Difference

Local experts speak about the benefits of music therapy and how children and their parents can get involved
A therapist with Twin Cities Music Therapy Services teaches a class of children.

Courtesy Twin Cities Music Therapy Services

The belief that listening to classical music can make babies smarter is still a rather contested idea. In a way, though, genre is not as important as the finding that creating a connection with music—any kind of music—encourages children’s emotional expression and development.

“Music and rhythm are just innate to being human,” explains Stephanie Holman Hubbard, a music therapist for St. Paul Public Schools and her own private practice. “Our hearts beat to rhythm, our mother’s voice, our parents’ voices.”

Who is music therapy for?

Due to the universal impact of music, anyone can benefit from music therapy, an evidence- and clinical-based profession that focuses on developing skills through the process of learning and appreciating music. Even if having your baby listen to classical music isn’t exactly the key to acing the SAT 18 years later, the exposure can help provide a future resource of emotional expression. When a child listens to, plays, and interacts with music, perseverance, collaboration skills, and cognitive processes also develop.

Children are never too old or too young to interact with music. Music therapy for infants can include listening, singing, or playing percussion instruments, which can help with stress reduction, stimulation, attention, and motor skills. As children reach toddler or preschool age, participating in music therapy can help teach them to wait their turn or be part of a group.

Where can your child learn?

At places such as Toneworks Music Therapy, your baby can start exploring music before they are 1 year old. Whether or not you decide to take the Family Tones of Fun class (structured so the whole family can participate), Toneworks will give you take-home resources and applications so you can keep working on your goals after the session. Twin Cities Music Therapy Services, like many other organizations, has had extensive experience tailoring music therapy to those with autism, and at Alliance Music Therapy, you can choose from services such as individual in-home sessions, group sessions, and facility sessions. For a current list of board-certified music therapy organizations and therapists, check out the Music Therapy Association of Minnesota.

What role does classical music play?

While music therapists may include classical music in their sessions, oftentimes they pick from a wide variety of genres. Still, being open to classical music can not only lead yourself and your children to a lifelong love of the music style, but your family can gain an understanding of how music and history work in concert.

To give parents and their children an entry point into classical music, Classical MPR has created a program called Classical 15. Resources such as a parent-child yoga video with Blooma, a stream of lullaby music, and story time with classical soundtracks can be found online, free of charge.

“Classical music gets a bad rap deservedly because it has not always been embracing of people, and people think that they have to know something in order to respond to it,” says Vaughn Ormseth, Classical MPR’s manager of community impact. “If you like it, that’s all that matters.”

To continue classical music exposure after children reach school age, Classical MPR has another extensive program called Class Notes, which works with more than 26,000 public school students each year. And guess what? Even as children reach high school, exposure to Class Notes—and therefore classical music—has been shown to strengthen the same skills it can help develop in infants.

When it comes down to it, music, regardless of genre, can connect, move, and motivate. So find music that makes your children engage, and be open to introducing them to new styles. You just might find yourself listening in and taking something away from it, too.