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Executive Functioning and Music

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By Colette Hapi

As parents, we are always looking for different avenues to help our kids develop skills that will promote success as they grow into their adult lives; this is especially true for parents of kids who have ADHD. As parents, we become quite well-versed on academic-based strategies that can help our children, but there are also non-academic avenues that should warrant our attention, like learning to play an instrument. Your kids can do something they enjoy while simultaneously developing and fostering critical executive functioning skills; sounds like a win-win situation! 

You might be wondering: how does playing instruments help with executive functioning? Well, it’s been said that musical training strengthens the brain’s critical tasks, such as processing and retaining information, controlling behavior, and problem-solving. For children to play an instrument, they need to:

  • Focus their attention, set goals, prioritize practice over other activities, and plan how to learn a piece. Skills strengthened: Inhibitory control, planning, and prioritizing
  • Process multiple stimuli at once, such as keeping in mind what they just played to know what comes next, or remembering the new information that the conductor or teacher tells them and incorporating it into the piece. Skills strengthened: Working memory
  • Be flexible enough to switch back and forth between tempos and styles. Skills strengthened: Cognitive flexibility
  • Measure how they are currently playing a piece with how they want it to sound. Skills strengthened: Self-monitoring

These habits draw heavily on executive function skills, so for those parents who have already enrolled their kids in musical training classes, kudos to you! To those who haven’t, this might be a good way to help your kids along as they are engaging in something that they, hopefully, enjoy. 

P.S.: Stay tuned for our upcoming tip as we go into more detail about the workings of the brain as people are learning instruments and how it helps develop executive functioning skills. 

Erica MechlinskiExecutive Functioning and Music

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