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  • Writer's picturedrlynnekenney

The Music is Within Us: Building Self-Regulation Skills & Connection Through Music

When we think of music, often what comes to mind, is a song. We may think of Broadway musicals, Bach, or Taylor Swift. In our minds, songs may play throughout the day. Music is a universal language central to civilization for thousands of years. Before we had language, we used musical tones and sounds to communicate. The tone of a grunt signaled a message from our prehistoric ancestors, while the beat of a drum brought village people together in unity far and wide.

What we think of a little less often is musical composition and how it impacts our learning, self-regulation, and social relationships. Music is all around us. We hear music in the cling and clatter of the subway, the pitter-patter of our children’s footsteps, and the ambient noise inherent in life. Music engages our sensory, motor, and auditory pathways in the brain, fostering calming through synchronicity (see Patel & Iverson, 2014).

The ability to synchronize with a beat is also associated with learning language and grammar (Corriveau & Goswami, 2009; Gordon et al., 2015). At its core, music is composed of beats and rhythms that create sound, melody, and movement. These beats and rhythms are meaningful scaffolds we can use in school, at home, and in life to enhance foundational aspects of our learning, behavior, and social relationships. Here are three ways to incorporate music into your family life to foster growth in learning, self-regulation, and social connection.


Engaging in music with your children, classmates, and workmates can enhance a sense of cohesion, emotional safety, and trust. Our brains and bodies love to entrain, that is, join together in synchrony with others. Moving, tapping, and singing in synchrony provide us with a felt-sense of togetherness, safety, and trust. Consider for a moment, the smile on an infant’s face as he plays clapping games with his mother. Think about how you feel and what you perceive as you walk by a classroom of students harmonizing in song.

"Musical engagement provides opportunities to improve social cohesion, psychological safety and trust in our relationships."

What can you do? Sing more with others. Whether acapella, with the radio, or as you complete your tasks of daily living, turn up the music and sing along. Choose songs known to all and enjoy the feeling of camaraderie and togetherness as you sing tunes, together.


Moving, dancing, or playing in quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes provide opportunities to co-regulate. With the touch of a hand, the dip of a shoulder, or a moment of mirroring, moving to a focused state of calm can be achieved in 1-3 minutes.

FlowMoves for Co-Regulation and Self-Regulation

This Summer we will be piloting our newest cognitive-motor program FlowMovesTM a collection of 1-3 minute songs with developmental movement sequences that participants of any age can do on their own, with partners, or in groups to activate the calming centers of the brain through rhythmic movement. This research-based program supports co-regulation and self-regulation by shifting the brain and body from a state of stress to one of focused calm. FlowMovesTM is easy to use, it can be done anywhere and shared with anyone in your community, home, or school.

*Check this post in June 2024 for a few FREE downloadable FlowMovesTM activity cards.


Even if you aren’t a musical performer, songs, chants, poems, and raps are a wonderful way to learn academic knowledge. Music provides a rhythmic foundation on which to layer information to encode information to turn it into knowledge.  Further, consistent beats, specifically in 4/4 time, stimulate the brain’s natural interest, comfort, and familiarity with patterns and sequences. Help your children learn math facts, historical knowledge, literature, and foreign language by saying simple repetitive words in time to the beat for better encoding and retrieval of learned knowledge.

“We are musical beings, even our neurons fire like an orchestra.”


Clapping, tapping, stepping, marching, and bouncing to a beat provide a rhythmic platform on which to layer learning. Start by clapping or stepping measures of (4, 8, 12, or 16) beats per rhythmic sequence. Now try one measure (4 beats) in quarter notes and the next measure in half notes alternating measures up to 32 beats. There you have it! You are moving musically.

ALT 1: On the downbeat, add the content to be learned, for example, C-A-T CAT.  You can also say the words syllabically, El-E-Phant with a double clap on the fourth beat.

ALT 2: Imagine learning your history facts to a beat, “Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, created Thanksgiving Day, he championed freedom, as the children played.” Mix and match beats with rhythm, movements, sounds, and words for an engaging social experience. The words can rhyme, but they don’t have to.

"Music is magical. It has the ability to help us calm or energize, connect and reflect, enhancing our thinking skills, learning and character by engaging us as musical and prosocial beings."

Enjoy building thinking skills, self-regulation, and social connections as you chant, sing, move, and create to the sounds of music. For more musical learning ideas see Musical Thinking.


•    Corriveau K, Goswami U. (2009). Rhythmic motor entrainment in children with speech and language impairments: tapping to the beat. Cortex, 45: 119–130. 

•    Gordon R, Shivers C, Wieland E, Kotz S, Yoder P, McAuley J. (2015). Musical rhythm discrimination explains individual differences in grammar skills in children. Developmental Science, 18: 635–644.

•    Kraus, N. (2022). Of Sound Mind, The MIT Press.

•    Patel, A. D., & Iversen, J. R. (2014). The evolutionary neuroscience of musical beat perception: the Action Simulation for Auditory Prediction (ASAP) hypothesis. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 8, 57.

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