You’ve probably heard that school-age children get an academic boost from musical training. But did you know that even babies and toddlers can develop more quickly when they start learning music?
It’s true. Younger children who participate in regular music-based activities generally have better fine motor skills than their peers. And the benefits keep piling up as they grow.
But the relationship between music and fine motor skills isn’t just for children. Older adults, individuals with cognitive impairments, and people who have sustained injuries can also improve their fine motor skills by learning to play an instrument.
Keep reading for more on this — plus what the research says about music and the development of fine motor skills. We’ll also give you a handy list of basic instruments you or your child may learn to play and how they specifically aid in fine motor skill growth.
Table of Contents
- The Importance of Fine Motor Skills
- Can Learning To Play Music Help Develop Fine Motor Skills?
- The Relationship Between Music and the Development of Fine Motor Skills: What Does the Research Say?
- 7 Instruments That Help Develop Fine Motor Skills
- Contact Northwest School of Music To Learn More About How Music Can Enhance Fine Motor Skills
The Importance of Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills are activities involving the muscles of the hands, fingers, and thumbs. These skills start developing at birth, getting stronger and more refined as children learn and grow.
Fine motor skills are necessary for play and school activities, self-care/grooming, and cooking/eating.
People need fine motor skills to perform many everyday tasks, including:
- Putting on clothing (i.e., using buttons, snaps, buckles, and zippers)
- Tying and untying shoes
- Bathing or showering
- Brushing and flossing teeth
- Using the toilet
- Dialing a phone
- Turning door knobs and locks
- Operating a computer mouse and keyboard
- Eating with a fork or spoon
- Cutting food with a knife
- Pouring drinks
- Turning pages
- And so many more
Proper development of fine motor skills is necessary to fully function in life. If an accident or illness occurs that impairs fine motor actions, it’s imperative to improve them through therapy and other means.
Can Learning To Play Music Help Develop Fine Motor Skills?
Absolutely! Music and fine motor skills go hand-in-hand.
Children initially learn and develop through play. When young children are first introduced to the concept of creating music — often through classes such as Kinder Music — they have fun experimenting and making sounds with a variety of instruments.
They can then build on this foundation by learning to play more complex instruments as they get older.
Students develop their fine motor skills as they:
- Shake a tambourine or maracas
- Strike with a drumstick or rhythm stick
- Play the xylophone
- Hold a bow
- Pluck strings
- Learn finger placements for various instruments
- And more
Even the act of holding an instrument helps build fine motor skills, but the connections made by learning to play music at the same time speed up and enhance this process.
One study compared two groups. Group A consisted of children who received two years of piano lessons, and Group B had children with no formal music training.
Group A showed a significant improvement in fine motor skills over time. There was also a big difference in the speed of response between the two groups.
And it doesn’t just work for children. Music can also aid in the redevelopment of fine motor skills for individuals who have been injured or lost function due to illness.
The Relationship Between Music and the Development of Fine Motor Skills: What Does the Research Say?
There has been a great deal of research over the years pointing to the fact that people benefit from listening to and playing music in countless ways. Let’s look at some specific studies showing the relationship between music and the development of fine motor skills.
The Role of Music in the Development of Fine Motor Skills in Young Children
Music has been shown to enhance the development of both fine and gross motor skills because it encourages movement. This helps coordinate signals between the brain and the body.
A study compared the fine motor skills of young people learning to play percussion instruments against those who did not play. They noted that the experimental group (the musicians) improved their fine motor skills much more significantly than the control group, specifically in the areas of speed of the right hand and stability and precision of the left hand.
Another study finding that children with good handwriting at a young age perform better academically once they reach second grade and beyond links back to the importance of young children learning to play music. That’s because advanced fine motor skills lead to better penmanship.
The Role of Music in the Development of Fine Motor Skills in Individuals With ASD
People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) — especially younger children — usually have considerable impairments in their fine motor skills. Since most musical activities target practicing these motor skills, it’s a great idea to implement them as a form of treatment.
You don’t even have to go as far as learning to play an instrument to gain benefits. Music and movement therapies that involve clapping along or walking to the beat can help address motor delays often seen in individuals with ASD.
The Role of Music in the Development of Fine Motor Skills in the Elderly
There is evidence that musical training programs can enhance the well-being of older adults by improving fine motor skills. They can also provide cognitive benefits like motivation and social benefits such as happiness about performing in a group.
And there’s more good news for people experiencing central nervous injury or degeneration, such as those with Parkinson’s disease. Results of some experiments have shown that rhythm- and music-based interventions may improve motor function.
7 Instruments That Help Develop Fine Motor Skills
Young children can start with basic instruments, then transition to more complicated ones as they grow and develop.
Younger kids can’t handle certain instruments yet because of factors like:
- The weight and size of the instrument
- Not having enough lung capacity to play properly
- Not being able to do particular movements
As they get older and start playing more age-appropriate instruments, they can focus more on physiological elements and become even more dexterous.
Here’s a rundown of instruments you or your child might want to learn to play and how they can help develop fine motor skills.
#1: Simple Percussion Instruments
Even babies can play simple percussion instruments like bells or shakers. If babies can grasp firmly enough to hold a rattle, they can start making music.
Toddlers and preschoolers benefit from working with a wide range of instruments such as:
- Rhythm sticks
- And more
These simple percussion devices help young children learn to hold their instruments firmly and make music by striking or shaking them.
Even though the piano is a large instrument, it can be played by children as young as three. That’s because everything is laid out in front of them, and they don’t have to think abstractly to play — but can just learn which keys produce which notes and how to strike them to make a sound.
Fine motor skills that can be strengthened by playing the piano include:
- Finger/hand strength
- Finger/hand movement
- Finger dexterity
The ukulele is a great starter instrument because it’s small, only has four strings, and is pretty easy to learn. It’s also really fun to play!
Fine motor skills that can be strengthened by playing the ukulele include:
- Hand placement and fingering techniques
- Plucking methods
- Strumming methods
Our ukulele lessons are for students four and up.
Playing the violin requires fairly developed fine motor skills, so we recommend that our students don’t start these classes until they are at least five years old.
Fine motor skills that can be strengthened by playing the violin include:
- Holding and moving a bow precisely
- Careful finger placement
- Plucking strings
- Using both sides of the body/both hands in a coordinated manner
Drum lessons can start with the simple striking of one piece of percussion and move up to the manipulation of a full drum kit. Advanced drummers must be highly coordinated and use their whole body.
Fine motor skills that can be built by playing the drums include:
- Strengthening of hands and fingers (along with gross motor muscle groups)
- Increased hand-eye coordination
- Improved movement control
We teach drums to students aged four to adults.
The flute and other woodwinds are more advanced instruments with many keys, so we don’t start teaching these to students until they are at least six.
Fine motor skills that can be strengthened by playing the flute include:
- Top-notch finger control
- Excellent hand-eye coordination
As students grow and gain even stronger fine motor skills, they may learn to play the flute with open keys. These can produce more variations of sound but are harder to play because the holes in the keys must be completely covered.
Since guitars are larger than ukuleles and have more strings, we recommend that students wait until age six to start learning this instrument. You can purchase a smaller-scale guitar if the child playing is still too small for a standard size.
Fine motor skills that can be strengthened by playing the guitar include:
- Picking techniques
- Plucking methods
- Strumming methods
- Hand placement and fingering techniques
As students grow, they may also learn to play the larger bass guitar.
Contact Northwest School of Music To Learn More About How Music Can Enhance Fine Motor Skills
Development of fine motor skills is just one of the manifold benefits of music education. If you want your child to take full advantage of these benefits — or you’d like to jump in and start learning as an adult — you should check out Northwest School of Music.
We are Oregon’s #1 choice for music lessons because of the motivational programs we offer that are taught by a talented and dedicated staff.
Our unique Musical Ladder program incentivizes students by offering …
- Special wristbands
- Certificates; and
… for passing music tests created around their personal goals and lesson materials.
Register today and get a free session. Come discover the difference at Northwest School of Music.