When musician, parent, and music educator Philip Sheppard undertook the writing of Music Makes Your Child Smarter his working title was Can Music Make Your Child Smarter? Though already intensively involved in music in all areas of his life, Sheppard wanted to explore the question from a position of skepticism. As he researched and wrote, however, he came to the undeniable conclusion that forms the book’s current title.
Presented in two parts, Sheppard lays out the evidence for the effect of music upon the developing minds of children, with a particular focus on those ages seven and under. Sheppard isn’t talking about a Mozart Effect approach, which Sheppard points out is founded upon questionable research data. The evidence he shares about the effects of music upon the growing mind are most evident when music is actively explored, played with, and experienced first hand — not through passively listening to classical music in the background.
The first half of the book, wherein Sheppard lays out his arguments, combines research findings with his own personal anecdotes as teacher, musician, and parent. I found the writing in this section to be somewhat choppy, at times repetitive, and, due to the lack of footnotes, sounding more like personal conviction than a quantitatively measured argument.
The book does include a research list and bibliography in the appendix, but without end notes it is difficult to line up research papers with the points that Sheppard has made in the text. Still, no parent reading his arguments will be able to walk away without a niggling feeling that they must do something to encourage the development of their child’s natural capacity for music before the crucial age of seven.
The second half of Music Makes Your Child Smarter explores activities from pre-birth to early elementary (up to age nine), with a brief introduction to the options available for formal music lessons as children grow.
Eschewing the popularly held belief that passively listening to the classics will somehow make your baby smarter, Sheppard’s goal is to instead encourage parents to step up and fill the role as first music teacher by engaging children in active music making, musical play, integration with art, and a wide array of other simple activities.
Broken into age groups, Sheppard starts with simple lullabies sung by parents to unborn children, moves into musical games, finger plays, and motion songs, then into homemade instruments, spontaneous composition games, body percussion, and children increase in age. A parent armed with the suggested activities found within the pages of the book and the samples on the included CD (with cello performances by Sheppard himself) will be able to jump in with only this resource at their disposal and start enjoying music with their children.
An oddity that I noticed was that some of the longer songs in the book — some with several pages of lyrics — were not included on the CD, though the tunes were unfamiliar to me. In many cases the tunes are provided, and, for some that are very well known, the lyrics serve as a reminder to parents who may have forgotten classics from their own childhoods — no tunes necessary.
For parents whose children are ready to move into formal instruction, Sheppard provides a breakdown of the most popular instruments, along with ratings for “startability,” expense, and his own commentary about versatility, transition to other instruments, and any special considerations to take into account. Sheppard also moves far beyond the classical range with suggestions for additional listening from genres ranging from jazz, rock, disco, and the classics, too, of course.
The combination of Sheppard’s text with the accompanying 53 track CD provides a comprehensive introductory-level overview to early-childhood music education for parents. Any parent who puts the exercises held within to use with their children is sure to be met with an enthusiastic response from their little ones and lay the foundation for a life-long appreciation of music.