How Music Can Improve Verbal Memory For Children With Down Syndrome

I don’t know how many of you played a musical instrument but I played the piano and saxophone. I was much more talented in the musical department than I was in sports, so if Noah isn’t good at sports it has nothing to do with Down syndrome ….but possibly everything to do with his mother. I however, thought that basketball was way cooler than the piano, so at 15 I decided it was time to focus on basketball after 9 years of piano lessons!

WHAT WAS I THINKING? (Yes mom I know you are reading this, and you were right…)

I went on to quit the basketball team my senior year as I had better things to do then sit on a bench of a coach who didn’t really think I had game. It was one of the hardest things I did as I had never quit anything in my life, but it was the right decision. Can I still play the piano, yes, but who knows what I would have gone on to achieve had I stuck to what I was good at.

Brain Hemispheres and Their Function

music thearpy children down syndrome

Noah likes to rock the tambourine.

My piano teacher believed firmly that music connected both sides of the brain. The right side of your brain thought to be creative, artistic and musical; and the left to be speech, comprehension, math, and writing. There are several benefits of music for children with learning disabilities, but I am going to touch on just one today as I promise you this is not Noah’s last exposure to a musical instrument and more will come.

Music Training And Its Effect On The Brain

baby with down syndrome playing with toy tambourine

The tambourine also makes for a nice snack!

There have been a few studies out of Hong Kong that focus on music’s effect on learning. One study showed that individuals who had musical training tended to have an enlarged left temporal lobe. I thought this a bit weird considering music is supposed to be on the right side of the brain. There are studies that show that as your musical experience increases it shifts from the right to left side of the brain. The left temporal lobe has a lot to do with speech and verbal memory. As you can probably guess, those with musical training have been shown to have improved verbal memory than those without. Once musical training is stopped the improvement in verbal memory also stopped, they still remained above those without any training, but they did not continue to progress as those still involved.

I think this can help us understand why music helps us learn verbally, and why songs get stuck in our head rather than the last book chapter we read. Noah loves to make music. He will pound on keyboards, drums, shake maracas and jam with the tambourine. I think the tambourine may be one of his favorites.

What ways do you incorporate music with your child? What benefits have you seen?

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  1. I am a pediatric occupational therapist and I believe, as you do, that music is beneficial for learning and development.  I would like you to look up a web site (New Visions) of a pediatric speech pathologist who has her Ph.D. and has informational papers that she has written, a feeding equipment catalog, and hemi-synch CDs.  Her name is Suzanne Evans Morris.  I have attended her workshops and purchase from her catalog for my little students.  The web site is found at .  I love reading your family posts.  Your son is adorable and doing so well.  You are a blessing to him, he is a blessing to you…and you are a blessing to me. S. Jeanne Koutz, OTR/L

  2. Marybeth Brand says

    Yes, yes, and yes! This is what we as music therapists do on a daily basis…not because it’s “fun” or “motivating” (although it certainly is both of those things!). I know I’ve posted this before, but we are neurologically created to respond to music. And since music is processed on both sides of the brain, it can compensate for the areas that are not performing up to par…and stimulate cognitive and communicative skills. Try singing directives to a child, and you will notice that they often respond more quickly than they would to spoken instructions. 🙂

  3. James LOVES music! But he didn’t really respond to it until the last month or two. But now he really gets going. 🙂 We like to play lots of children’s songs in our house. I sing to him when I change his diaper. And the funniest is that our music-buff PT just figured out that James loves techno music! As far as interactive music, James likes to swipe a drum of his big brother’s. And his glo-worm has become a favorite nighttime toy. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning this morning, I heard the little glo-worm just a goin’.

    • Noah's Mom, MD says

      Noah has that glo-worm.  His grandpa gave it to him and he calms down instantly when it lights up 🙂

      • I guess there’s a reason those glo-worms have been around forever! It’s so cool now that James has really figured out that pressing the toy leads to more music. He’d almost “gotten it” awhile back, but then the batteries died, and then he had something just short of the plague (okay, might have been conjunctivitis, but still), and I had to wash everything, find new batteries….well, it was awhile before he got it back! I’ve noticed that sometimes giving him breaks like that (same with trying new food textures) seems to help him over the hump when we try again!

        • Ohhhh I can’t wait for Noah to learn to turn his glow worm back on when it goes off! Maybe we should take his glow worm out of the crib for a while, and put it back in! 🙂

          He does however have a mobile that he enjoys turning on and off (and running the batteries down quickly.) 🙂

  4. Thanks for showcasing one of the best tools out there–music!  Our five year old son with DS gets music therapy twice a week.  Music has proved to be one of the most effective ways of teaching him.  I’ve explained some of the benefits of music for him in this post 

    My dream would be for every child with Down syndrome to have access to music therapy!

    • Noah's Mom, MD says

      That was a great blog post!  I like the idea of color-coding the music.  How do you get music therapy for your son?  Does insurance pay for it?  Thanks!!! 

      • Wade is getting his music therapy through our local public school system. I requested that it be put into his IEP.  It took a while to get everything in place, but I’m so pleased with the results!

        • Oops, I forgot to say that some insurance companies do pay for music therapy now.  Another alternative might be to request it from your early intervention program.

          • Karen, 

            Thanks for your comment! I had no idea that some insurance companies covered music therapy. That’s great, thanks for sharing. We’ll have to look into that. 🙂

            I’m trying out a new comment system, and I had a quick question for you; did you receive a notification (email) of some sort when you received a reply to your first comment (and this one I’m leaving for you now?) I’m trying to make sure people are receiving notifications. 


            • Yes, Rick, I received an email notification of the reply.  Hope you have success in finding a music therapist!

              • Thanks! (And I”m glad the notifications worked for you.) 

                • I just checked in here, and it turns out I forgot to subscribe, so I had some catching up. But–without the subscription–I did NOT get notification of replies to my posts. Just an fyi.

                  • Ahhh, Ok. I think if you set up a disqus account you can set it to auto reply. It looks like none of the comment systems will notify you unless you subscribe (or follow, as I think it was called on Facebook.)
                    I wish there was an ultimate comment system… 🙂 I guess there is a fine line between efficient, and annoying….and subscribing is supposed to be in the middle. I’d rather it notify people when there is a reply to their comment, and than allow them to opt out, instead of opt-in. 🙁

                    • Lydia Norvell says

                      I agree, that would be a good option! But oh, well. I think this one is a good option, too. I just have to remember to subscribe, no big deal. 🙂

                    • Me too. 🙂 I do think I like this one better than the Facebook one since you don’t get any sort of emails at all when someone replies. That’s a huge fail. 🙂

      • Marybeth Brand says

        Abbie–Some insurance covers Neurologic Music Therapy, but it depends on your carrier. Like Karen said, many EI programs have music therapy, but often you have to go on your own to find a music therapist. By the time he’s 3, and in the public school system, it CAN be added to his IEP…just make sure that he’s evaluated by a certified music therapist. If you are interested in finding a music therapist now in your area, contact the American Music Therapy Association at 301-589-3300. They can give you a listing of music therapists in your area who work with young children. 

        • That’s great to know. Thanks for sharing, we are going to have to look in to that for sure!

          • Marybeth Brand says

            You’re welcome!! If you decide to go the insurance route, please let me know how it goes! It isn’t always easy to get them to cover it, and we’re working on making music therapy more accessible to families  in terms of expense.  You might need to try more than once–sometimes they deny things like this the first time, but if you can justify the need (letter from his ped, and a music therapist evaluation) , many times they will agree in the end. Blessings!!!

            • Thanks Marybeth! I will. 🙂
              I know very well how the insurance companies work, trust me. Maybe I’ll write a few posts about how many times I had to call to get all of Noah’s OT / PT covered! 🙂

        • Ditto to what MaryBeth said (hi, friend!), but it doesn’t have to be Neurologic Music Therapy to get it covered by insurance. I did initial training in NMT, but did not maintain that credential, but we are getting insurance reimbursement for music therapy for several clients.

      • To find a music therapist in your area, you can go to the American Music Therapy Association’s website at, or the Certification Board for Music Therapy,, to search for a music therapist in your area. And yes, we are starting to get insurance reimbursement for music therapy services – it’s a case-by-case basis and really depends on your plan, but definitely something to look into. There are so many ways that music can help kids with Down syndrome and other disabilities!

  5. Anna Theurer says

    I am in complete agreement with all of the other commenters, but I speak as a parent and not as a professional.  Music is HUGE in our household.  We sing all the time, even the simplest of commands (ie. “Ellie, put blocks in the bucket”. and “Ellie close the drawer”) and guess what, Ellie typically obeys 😉  I started Ellie in a Music Together class early on and she loved it.  We have played the songs so much that she recognizes her favorites and mimics the hand movements performed during class.  Now, we do a music therapy class which I believe has helped Ellie’s communication.  Ellie is now signing more signs and making more sounds!

  6. I couldn’t agree with you more…I am not educated…but…I have a neice who is now in her late 30’s who has Down Syndrome. My brother played the cordavox…hope I spelled that right…Its an electric accordian…and Laurie knew music from before birth. She can sing you the complete version of hundreds of songs. Although Willie Nelson remains her all time favorite! lol She can also put together a jigsaw puzzle faster than anyone…her hand goes to a piece and without pause it fits and she’ll continue this until its completed. She gives unconditional love to all and is a joy! Marie

  7. Marybeth Brand says

    @Karen: That would be my dream too! 

  8. Landon loves music.He likes to dance and sing..Yes sing,I can not understand him but he knows what he is singing!!! Music is great for him..

  9. Winklerheather says

    It is good to know all my off key made up silly songs I sing for everything we are doing are actually not silly, but instead helpful! My best song is for lotion in the morning…
    Lotion on my legs, lotion on my feet, hey mommy mommy that really feels neat.
    Lotion on my chest, lotion on my belly, hey mommy mommy that really feels funny.
    Lotion on my arms, lotion on my hands, hey mommy mommy that really feels grand.
    It’s lotion time!

  10. Trudy Callan says

    This was an awesome post. I learned so much. Thank you.

  11. Thanks! My wife did a great job. 🙂

    Do you guys do any musical type ‘stuff’ in your house? 

  12. That’s awesome, and so does Noah. 

    We have no idea what he is singing, but whatever it is, he likes it. 🙂

  13. Couldn’t agree more!  The benefits or music are too many to count!  

  14. Noah’s Mom & Dad!
    I love following your adventures with Noah, he is such an adorable baby!! I have worked with special needs & we also used theraputic music.  It’s amazing what it can do.  I am attaching a link to a woman who has lots of experience & knowledge on the brain & tools that help build new pathways in the brain (theraputic music being one of them).  I hope you will check her out, she is amazing.  Her website is

    Many blessings to your family!!!

    • Thanks for the link! 

      Thanks also for the kind words about Noah, we really appreciate it.  What sort of work do you do with children with special needs by the way?

  15. Linda Slaybaugh says

    Yes Abbie, I did read your comments about the piano and basketball. I loved watching you on the court as well as playing the piano. However, the coolest thing of all is watching you with Noah.
    Love, Madre

  16. My son has a brain injury that occurred when he was 12 days old.
    When he was just beginning to sit up I noticed that he would bounce his body to the rhythm of the chopper as I chopped onions.  He has always loved music.
    He is turning 7 on Thursday, and he continues to love music.  He has a guitar and drumsticks, but has struggled with concentrating long enough to move forward with any lessons.  Perhaps in the future.
    I have noticed that if you put something to a song or a poem he will remember, despite his struggle with retaining information.  Though, we are finding that he can learn Scripture pretty quickly.  I attribute that to the power of the Word.

    Thank you for sharing.  If you have any thoughts on an at-home music exposure program, I would love to hear.

    Thank you

    • LanNell, 

      Thanks for sharing. Your son sounds like an amazing boy! What’s his name, if you don’t mind me asking?

      Thanks for sharing the comment about your son memorizing Scripture, that is awesome to hear. 🙂

    • Mary at Rhythm, Rhyme and Song says

      I teach guitar and just so you know age 7 is a bit early for guitar. I used to teach that age and found if frustrating for me as well as the child. They dont seem to have the grip strength for pressing down the strings as well as the maturity to remember. So I would say yes try again at age 8 or older. A music program would be benificial. I teach Afterschool music clubs in my area in Wisconsin. Maybe you can find something like that.

  17. janet machowicz says

    My special needs son suffered brain damage many years ago and we noticed that music helped him remember things and re-learn to talk. He knows the lyrics to nearly every song he’s ever heard. Learning things in sing-song helps him to focus and remember. I’m glad that so much more is known about the power of music today, it is a remarkable tool.

  18. Scott and Vanessa says

    AT 5 1/2 months Enzo began his “MUSIC TOGETHER IN THE KEYS CLASS”.  You can check it out at or go to the main website and find a class near you in Texas. (I think that is the website).  People also do a class called kindermusik, but I don’t know what that is like.  The class Enzo takes is very informative, tells us how different types of tempos, songs, etc. teach children so much.  We love it.  And let me tell you guys…Enzo’s facial expressions during a class or to die for!  There are no words to express just how much joy these classes bring him.  I hope you get to try it out.  

    • @a710cdd3108a5e80ab419b45313709d2:disqus Wow, that sounds awesome. I glad you are linked up with that (you guys are always on the cutting edge!) 🙂 We’ve actually heard of kindermusik, and heard great things about it. I’d love to get Noah hooked up with one of these, it sounds like so much fun (even for the parents!) 
      What do the parents do the entire time? I’m assuming just sort of hang out and play with them like library story time? Do you ever see any dads there? 

      • Scott and Vanessa says

        When it comes to MUSIC TOGETHER IN THE KEYS the parents come into the room with the children.  In fact, what the parent does is what the basis of the class is about.  It’s basically the fact that the child will follow what the parent does.  So….basically we sit down with Enzo and start with the Hello Song.  Enzo is sitting right in front of us and we sing with everyone else.  The older children will sing along, slapping their hands on the ground with us, but Enzo, since he doesn’t do that yet, just watches. His eyes are big and round and you can see that he wants to join in!  He truly wants to do what we do.  Then we sing another song.  We learn about tones, different sounds.  WE play with instruments, kitchen utensils, scarfs and even a colorful parachute (which is Enzo’s favorite).  They take songs and sing them in different ways to show how everyone can make a song personal or more fun.  Sometimes the CD is used, but most of the time it’s all about using your imagination and your own voice.  The children love it!  Enzo loves it!  I highly recommend you do this for Noah!  There is no better feeling then the look of awe in Enzo’s eyes.  Something is definitely making him learn!  

  19. Mary at Rhythm, Rhyme and Song says

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and childs life with the world. I teach preschool music including one class of children with Downs Syndrome. Music is wonderful for language and memory. I see all the time the development from week 1 to the last. They will sing along and participate more and more. Its all about the three R’s. Rhythm, Rhyme and Repetition. Keep on singing and playing music! They are learning even when you think they are not paying attention.

  20. Super interesting. We don’t have a DS baby, but we adopted a little girl with a serious uncorrected CHD. She was 3 when we met and grew to that age with low O2 sats and a less than optimal environment. Most of her struggles are in the language areas.

    I can see that music training may be a big tool in helping her advance.
    Thank you!

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