Music is wonderful – for cognitive and holistic development of young kids

Children exploring music. picture credit -

In conversation with

Mukta Dharma | Founder of Tootly – an online music education platform | Mother, Educator-Entrepreneur, Musician, Ex-Investment Banker | IIM Ahmedabad

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music” – Albert Einstein

Music is a blessing to mankind. It makes us sing, it makes us dance. It makes us cry, it makes us laugh. Music transports us to another world. Even when it stops, it stays with us.

The benefits of music to health and well-being are immense. It keeps the heart healthy, elevates mood, reduces stress, stimulates memories, eases pain and does a lot more . No wonder that every education board emphasizes music education in their curriculum. Numerous researches have been conducted to understand the correlation of music with cognitive development.

For growing kids, music is like a magic as it helps in

  • brain growth,
  • building language and math skills,
  • enhancing memory and concentration,
  • improving coordination and teamwork,
  • boosting confidence,
  • developing routine and self-discipline,
  • elevating social and emotional skills,
  • and unleashing their creativity.

Mukta has trained in Hindustani classical vocal for over 13 yrs and has performed at various events across India. An Alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad, Mukta Dharma is a founder, former investment banker and ex-CEO of The Whitefield Project (an organization for advancement of music and culture).

As a mother and musician, she felt the need for an engaging pedagogy to deliver the traditional music curriculum to young children. To realize her dream to bring the wonderful benefits of music to every child, she has founded Tootly.

Q. Music benefits everyone. But, as you say, it is never early to learn music, what are the advantages of starting music education early? 

There have been multiple, even longitudinal studies, to study the effect of long term music education on cognition. Most studies show a positive correlation between studying music and improved cognition, memory, speech processing abilities etc. However, I feel that it is almost impossible, especially for the young age group that we are talking about, to isolate a specific trigger that makes a big impact.

That said, I have seen and experienced that young children derive a lot of soft skills out of music. It often helps shy kids open up and gain confidence; helps jumpy kids settle down as they focus on getting the lyrics or beat of a song right; helps kids understand emotions better as they see the correlation between a story and the background score or experience the power of music without words too; helps kids work in a group better as they sing and play together; helps them enunciate better and so on. And most important, since music and rhythm come naturally to everyone, it is a great way to channelise kids’ energy and creativity, especially at a young age! As parents, we endeavour to create a rich sensory environment for our kids, and music is a great way to do that.

There are lots of content available online which very well explain the positivity of music. These videos are really good watch.

 Listen to Anita Collins talking about positive impact of learning music

What if every child had access to music education from birth? | Anita Collins | TEDxCanberra

Listen to Professor Alan Harvey in live demonstration of the effect of music on brainwave Your brain on music | Alan Harvey | TEDxPerth

Q. What should be the ideal age to start music education? Both, vocals and instruments?

Between 0-6 years, children can learn vocal and some instruments like the keyboard. It is not very easy to learn an instrument at an age when a kid’s fine motor skills are not yet developed. Instruments, whether strings (e.g.- Guitar, Violin, Harp), winds  (e.g.- Flute, Saxophone) or percussion (e.g.-tabla, drums)  require physical creation of sound (unlike an electronic keyboard), and so are best suited for children above 6 years. 

At Tootly, we typically begin vocals around at the age of three, by which time they can follow instructions, sit independently, and are used to an external learning environment. That said, a child can start singing and playing at any age at home, if there is someone to guide them properly. It is never quite early to start. A lot of the greatest musicians started ‘learning’ by listening and playing around when they were 2 or 3 years old.

Q. But, what about their vocal chords? Is it ready to take all notes for vocals?

Music Educators need to understand a kid’s natural pitch. Some kids have a higher pitch and some kids have a bass, so we let them in their comfort zone as long as they can sing in tune. Later we try to bring them to a common pitch or so that they don’t strain anything. It gets done gradually because it’s a muscle in training. As long as it is trained gradually and systematically, it is not an issue.

Q. In current times, all the learning is happening online. Music is an art which is traditionally learnt in the presence of a guru. Can online learning replace that methodology? Is there an alternative?

In person training is always most effective. But I would caveat this with the following:

  • In-person teaching usually happens in a group, and especially with vocals, I find the teacher makes all children sing in a pitch that works as an average for the group while it may not always be suited to the individual. This could harm the voice in long term.
  • To learn music, practice at home is important. it is a performing art after all. When going to a teacher, students often discount the need to spend time on their music at home, on their own.
  • There are also the practical hassles of actually finding a good teacher nearby, and taking your child to class regularly etc.

The pandemic has made teachers and students open to online learning. This offers some great practical advantages. In the conventional style of teaching, I have seen some stress in young children like getting ready on time, waiting patiently for your turn, getting only a few chances to participate, etc.

We have started our self-paced, online course at Tootly with exactly this in mind. Just 10-min-a-day, at your convenience, and online – offers all the fun and flexibility young kids need to learn effectively.

From the parents and students’ point of view, I think it’s great to have so many options to choose from. We just need to find what works best for us.

Q. Your career path is unique and inspiring. What has the journey been like?

I started training in Hindustani classical vocal when I was 6 or 7 yrs old. Before that, I used to perform on small stages and around music and concerts a lot, thanks to my parents. I had learnt enough to pursue it professionally, but at that time I decided to pursue my MBA and a career in investment banking instead. After quitting my job, as now I am working in the field of education and music, life has come to full circle.

When as a parent of a 3 years old kid, I started looking for ways to meaningfully engage my child in music. And, I found out that there were very few learning-focussed options available for his age.

In my previous role as the head of an academy for a music organisation, I had seen how a lot of parents are biased against learning Indian classical music (thinking it’s boring, difficult, irrelevant etc) and so those who started, dropped off in 6 months. Primarily because of the traditional way of teaching which may be out of sync with today’s generation.

That all led me to create Tootly – which brings classical music in a simple, fun way to 3-6 yr old kids. We’ve had great success in instilling great fundamentals and an interest in pursuing music further. So our 6 and 7 yr old alumna are now learning Hindustani and carnatic vocals, piano, tabla and exploring a lot more.

Our latest offering is the online, self-paced module. It culls from our experiences of teaching kids all these years and creates what I think is the most easy and relaxed way of learning for young kids. 

Q. Tootly really has diversified the way music can be learnt. Parents can now choose the most suitable one for their kids. Any suggestions for the parents who are exploring about music education?

For very young kids (0-3 yrs), I would suggest start by just being around music, preferably live music. It doesn’t mean concerts. It could just be a musician in the family singing, practising etc. Don’t expect kids to vocalise, create music just yet, but they are learning loads by listening passively and internalising too.

Once they are slightly older, and thanks to the uber-connected world nowadays, look for options. In my experience, the most important thing is that the child first enjoys the subject, and then learning (and perseverance) follows naturally. 

Tootly programmes are made especially for 3-6 yr olds and musical concepts are taught through simple, short stories, games etc.. Our website (Tootly) has all the information you will need, and a free trial to experience this for yourself.

Visit Music for Every Child. Anytime. Anywhere.

“If I cannot fly, let me sing” – Stephen Sondheim

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