Rhythm Notion: 10 Benefits of Music for ADHD Brains
The benefits of music are wide-ranging and well documented. From teaching empathy and improving memory and concentration, to helping track time and easing emotions, music can change the life of a child with ADHD. Here, learn how lyrics, rhythm, melody, and tempo work their magic.
The benefits of music for the mind, body, and overall health are well-known and well documented. Music strikes a chord with the brain — regulating mood and stress, improving memory and cognition, and even adding structure to daily life — in a way few other therapies can.
Children with ADHD experience out-sized benefits from music. The rhythm, melody, tempo, and lyrics of music may be harnessed to help them activate focus, boost organizational skills, incentivize desired behaviors, improve ADHD symptoms, and more.
Whether it’s Mozart or Metallica, music benefits kids with ADHD, even if they’re not musicians. Here, learn creative activities your family can incorporate into daily life that turn up the volume on music’s healing powers.
The Benefits of Music for Kids with ADHD
1. Music improves attention and focus.
The temporal and rhythmic properties of music are thought to modulate some symptoms of inattentiveness. Playing, or learning to play an instrument, can also help develop skills needed for sustaining attention, alternating attention, impulse control, and decision-making. One study found that children who studied a musical instrument showed better auditory connectivity in the brain, which is often diminished in ADHD brains.
Music lessons also increase your child’s ability to work in a noisy environment, which is useful for coping with distractions.
2. Music reinforces memory.
Attaching information to lyrics and melody helps children — with and without ADHD — remember important items. Try teaching phone numbers, addresses, chores, and procedures (like washing hands or tying shoes) to the tune of your child’s favorite songs.
3. Music acts as a study aid.
For some students, listening to music while studying works well because it keeps the brain activated, focused, and less prone to distractions. There is no single musical genre that is best for studying – it is entirely individual. Whether the lyrics in your child’s preferred music are appropriate is another discussion, but don’t automatically rule out hip-hop or heavy metal; it might work to focus your child.
Encourage your child to explore genres, and to use headphones with comfortable volume levels.
4. Music helps keep track of time.
Time blindness is common with ADHD, and music helps build time perception and awareness skills. Rather than have your child do homework or chores to the beat of a timer, try playing a song or timed playlist. It may be easier for your child to keep pace with a favorite soundtrack rather than an unstimulating timer or clock. Music also teaches predictability – a certain point in a song or playlist can act as a marker, letting your child know that it’s time to move to the next step or wrap up.
5. Music boosts energy.
A good tune can pump up the brain and body, upping dopamine levels and increasing your child’s motivation to tackle even the least desirable of tasks. As with study music, have your child listen to different genres to see what works best. Ask them how they feel listening to each type of music – Are they more anxious? More in the zone? Perhaps too amped up and energized?
If your child has excess energy, music and movement are great ways to channel it. Try enrolling your young child into a developmental music program (such as Music Together, Kindermusik, Musikgarten), which helps build a variety of skills through the experience of music. Older children may benefit from dance classes or other group music experiences.
6. Music promotes calm.
Just as music can boost our energy, it can also calm and soothe us, making it an effective tool for emotional regulation. Again, the choice in music is personal. Some children relax to an audio track of nature or a composition without lyrics. Others feel calm and happy while listening to an upbeat pop song.
7. Music improves self-esteem.
Too many children with ADHD experience low self-esteem. Creating music and learning to play an instrument can build self-confidence and a skill in which they can take pride. It can also teach children about the importance of practice and persistence in the process of crafting something special and enjoyable.
Music is also quite normalizing – your child can bond with peers by talking about music, the instruments they play, and their favorite bands. Joining an orchestra or band at school is great for building social skills while pursuing musical interests. As music and movement are joined at the hip, many children benefit from dance, or another movement experience that works with music.
If your child wants to learn how to play an instrument, make sure to explore a variety of them – piano, drums, guitar, cello, etc. – to find the one that truly sings.
8. Music reinforces desired behaviors.
If listening to or performing music is a rewarding activity for your child, use it to encourage follow-through. Offer a jam session or music video, for example, after your child completes their homework.
9. Music encourages introspection.
Songwriting promotes emotional expression and introspection – exercises that can help children better understand their feelings, themselves, and how to effectively communicate their feelings to others. School-aged children can benefit from partaking in songwriting activities. With teens, who are just beginning to build their sense of self and independence, songwriting can be especially fruitful for self-exploration. Parents can learn a lot about their child’s emotional state, priorities, and passions through these exercises.
There are many ways to explore songwriting, including fill-in-the-blank exercises where children swap out known lyrics to a familiar tune with their own.
10. Music teaches empathy.
Lyric analysis teaches children about point-of-view, the thoughts and feelings of others, and self-reflection. Open up a discussion with your child about a favorite song and ask them to think about what the lyrics mean. What might the artist be trying to say? What clues do the lyrics provide? Try having your child write out the lyrics on paper to truly probe them.
Benefits of Music for ADHD Brains: Final Notes
- Keep a listening log of songs and music that energize, calm, and dysregulate your child as a handy reference.
- Use music intentionally for the outcomes you’re seeking. Background music, even if your child insists they aren’t tuning in, can influence behavior and feelings.
- Do not overuse music. Children (and all of us) need quiet time, too. Too much music can lead to the point of habituation, where the benefits music may be muffled or softened.
- Music lessons? Be honest with the teacher about your child’s strengths and roadblocks so they can plan ahead (they may reorganize the studio, for example, to eliminate distractions). Look for a flexible instructor who will experiment with different methods for alternative learners. Talk to a board-certified music therapist, who may teach lessons or refer you to someone who is a good match for your child’s needs.
The content for this article was derived from the ADDitude Expert Webinar “How Music Sparks, Soothes, and Optimizes the ADHD Brain in Children” (ADDitude ADHD Experts Podcast episode #335) with Patti Catalano, MM, MT-BC, which was broadcast live on December 2, 2020.
Benefits of Music: Next Steps
- Read: Music Therapy – Sound Medicine for ADHD
- Download: Music for Healthy ADHD Brains
- Read: How Music Unlocked My Son’s ADHD Brain
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