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Using Music to Support Self-Regulation




Engaging with music is a fun and developmentally appropriate activity for children that is also known to have widespread benefits in areas such as cognition, language, motor control and brain development. These widespread non-musical brain benefits are often referred to as the “musician advantage.” A review of evidence found that engaging in rhythmic music and movement activities in early childhood classrooms may be effective in enhancing self-regulatory skills. Self-regulation is an important skill underlying most areas of academic achievement, social engagement and overall well-being. Self-regulation refers to cognitive processes in the areas of attention, behavior and emotions. Beat synchronization, or the coordination of rhythmic movement with an external rhythm such as clapping or drumming along to a beat was found to be especially beneficial to support self-regulatory skills. There are many shared networks in the brain for processing auditory input, motor control and self-regulation, therefore activities that improve beat synchronization skills may use “musician advantage” for the purposes of supporting self-regulation development in young children.


Specific findings from a recent review of evidence related to music and self-regulation include that:

· Engagement in formal and informal music activities for children ages 1-3 has shown benefits such as decreased auditory distractibility and improved stress regulation

· Individual differences in beat synchronization skills have been related to skills for language development including auditory perception in preschool children

· Physical activities that also include cognitive challenge and social interaction may support executive functioning development

· An external beat stimulates the auditory motor system, supporting coordinated movements

· Regular rhythmic movement sessions within early childhood settings that incorporate elements of yoga or mindfulness and other relaxation techniques may also support emotional regulation


Engagement in rhythmic movement activities is promising for supporting self-regulation and can be used widely in the home and school setting. Activities should be designed to stimulate beat synchronization and motor coordination skills, embed self-regulatory games or challenges as well as relaxation techniques.


A few activity ideas from the SOTH team for using music to support self-regulation include:

· Clapping, tapping or drumming along to a song or beat

· Speeding up or slowing down movement or dancing in response to changes in tempo

· Flowing through yoga poses along with musical changes

· Tossing bean bags or balls along to a beat

· Listening to and repeating a simple beat pattern

· Freeze dance (listening and stopping movement when the music stops)

· Pairing a song consistently with a routine (such as a transition in or out of the day)



Williams, K. E. (2018). Moving to the beat: using music, rhythm, and movement to enhance self-regulation in early childhood classrooms. International Journal of Early Childhood, 50, 85–100 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13158-018-0215-y

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