Why Doesn’t My Child Join in at Music Classes? Mirror Neurons

Monday 9th March
-Julie Wylie

Often in a music class, the young child will watch intently, maybe for several weeks, or months before participating. The child’s parent may say that they are not doing anything and some parents become concerned that they should be doing things and joining in. However it is usually these watching, listening children who then reach the stage of singing all the words and doing all the actions.  When I ask the parent what the child does when they leave the music class they often say that the child sings in the car on the way home and when they look in the rear vision mirror, they see them doing the actions to songs. One parent said that her daughter did nothing in music classes for six months, but at home she would be singing all the songs and re-enacting the whole music class routine, often involving her parents and little sister. There is such a lot going on within a music class and such a lot for a child to learn. It is rather like learning all the rules of a game. Children may need weeks or even months to master what is happening, to understand why and when things happen, how they can become involved, who is leading and when they are expected to do specific actions.

According to neuroscience, when a child is observing and listening, mirror neurons in their brain are firing.  Research has established that primates, some birds, and humans have mirror neurons, neurons that fire both when performing an action and when observing someone else performing that action. Levitin suggests that mirror neurons may explain an old mystery of how it is that infants learn to imitate the faces that parents make at them. It may also explain why musical rhythm moves us, both emotionally and physically. Some neuroscientists speculate that our mirror neurons may be firing when we see or hear musicians perform, as our brain tries to work out how those sounds are being created, in preparation for being able to mirror pr echo them back as part of a signalling system (Levitin, 2006,  pp 259-260 ).  Children need time to listen, to watch, wait, wonder and process an activity. Mirror neurons are firing in their brains helping to establish a picture of how the sounds, gestures, actions are being created. When the children are ready, they will join in the musical play.



Levitin, D.J.  (2006). This is Your Brain on Music: the Science of a Human Obsession. New York: Dutton