Emeritus Professor of Music Education, University of Music Freiburg, Germany
1. From a neurobiological point of view the early years of childhood are crucial for the development of synaptic connections in the brain. This is reflected in simple terms by the German proverb "Was Hänschen nicht lernt, lernt Hans nimmermehr" (what Johnny doesn't learn, won't learn John any more").
2. However, we must not overestimate the first years (as John Bruer has mentioned in his book "The Myth of the First Three Years, 1999). It is not that John stops learning at an older age. Humans never finish their learning process. It is impossible to abstain from learning (we cannot not learn) because of the structural plasticity of the brain. However, it is much easier to learn during the flexible developmental phase of the brain. Therefore, the most important faculties (as upright position, verbal speech, logic thinking, abstract formal operations etc.) are developed during the first years of life.
3. Learning is based upon the plasticity of the brain which is most powerful in the early years, however, it keeps going over the entire life span. From a human, neurobiological, educational and ethic perspective early childhood education is important. Famlies and pre-schools (kindergartens) are the first and most crucial agents to present a stimulating enriched environment for learning.
4. Brain development is basically determined by its genetic disposition, but its individual structure depends on its use. The brain develops according to how we use it. All experiences are stored in the brain and influence its neural structure.
5. Recent findings in animal research have demonstrated that emotional deprivation and loss of social contact negatively effect the deep structure (limbic system, amygdala) of the brain. This has promoted "neuro-didactics" because of the obvious impact of neurobiological processes on teaching and learning. Afflictions such as hyperkinetic and attention deficit syndrome (ADS) refer to a possible interaction of emotional care and brain development.
6. This supports the social and educational demand on policy makers to strengthen families for their educational duties so that they can offer the best possible learning environment for infants. Pre-schools and schools can only support, but not replace parental care. Music learning as any other learning needs individual social interaction and informal guidance.
7. Music plays an important role at that early age. In its own unique way, musical practice activates rhythmic processes. The experience of time and space in childhood is different from that of adults. Children explore time and space by body weight and flow of movement whereas adults count and measure. Therefore, it is obvious and reasonable that children need music as a means of rhythmic repetition and structured movement. And they respond to music very sensibly.
8. Music stimulates the growth of brain structures and connects many activated brain areas. Musical practice calls for fine motor coordination, and enhances the phonological loop. It is not a question of whether music is processed in the right or left brain hemisphere, because music fosters a strong interconnectivity and coherence of both hemispheres. As shown by the treatment of cochlear implant children, music functions as a highly differentiated stimulation for the underdeveloped auditory cortex.
9. Research on music aptitude has demonstrated that every human being is born with a certain level of musical potential which holds its highest degree right after birth and can never exceed this level. Without any informal environmental stimulation a child's musical potential will decrease and finally disappear. Therefore, it is extremely important to expose the brain to various musical stimuli so that it can develop musical representations. The learning window for the musical brain opens at a very early age. Parents and educators should aim to develop each child's given potential.
10. Music learning already starts at a prenatal stage (as Kodály mentioned: Music education starts nine months before birth – of the mother!) and continues informally after birth depending on parental musical activities. Children learn music as they do with language, i.e. they do not start with grammar and theory, but with practice. They develop knowing-how before knowing-about. Action knowledge represents the most robust representation of musical knowledge. The vital need for music facilitates learning by practical approaches. Music, then, becomes a natural means of communication and expression.
11. In view of the above, an international umbrella organization such as ISME is extremely important. It shares the responsibility of humans to provide all children with the best possible education corresponding to general human conditions and individual cultural properties. Exchange and interaction of different cultures can be seen as the best way to prevent the clash of cultures and to establish a peaceful symbiosis of people in the global world. The most powerful neural networks and behavioural attitudes are developed during childhood. A general acquisition of knowledge of the surrounding world (which is called "Weltwissen" and "Welterfahrung" by Donata Elschenbroich) governs our feelings and thoughts, our practice and knowledge. Music education plays its particular role in children's education. It fulfils an ethic doctrine to support and develop a given potential to the best possible extent.