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.