Music is a core function in our brain. Our brain is primed early on to respond to and process music. Research has shown that day-old infants are able to detect differences in rhythmic patterns. Mothers across cultures and throughout time have used lullabies and rhythmic rocking to calm crying babies. From an evolutionary standpoint, music precedes language. We don’t yet know why, but our brains are wired to respond to music, even though it’s not “essential” for our survival.
Our bodies entrain to rhythm. Have you ever walked down the street, humming a song in your head, and noticed that you’re walking to the beat? That’s called entrainment. Our motor systems naturally entrain, or match, to a rhythmic beat. When a musical input enters our central nervous system via the auditory nerve, most of the input goes to the brain for processing. But some of it heads straight to motor nerves in our spinal cord. This allows our muscles to move to the rhythm without our having to think about it or “try.” It’s how we dance to music, tap our foot to a rhythm, and walk in time to a beat. This is also why music therapists can help a person who’s had a stroke re-learn how to walk and develop strength and endurance in their upper bodies.
Children (even infants) respond readily to music. Any parent knows that it’s natural for a child to begin dancing and singing at an early age. My kids both started rocking to music before they turned one. And have you seen the YouTube video of the baby dancing to Beyonce? Children learn through music, art, and play, so it’s important (even necessary) to use those mediums when working with children in therapy.