Fostering Prosocial Skills Through Music

Today's blog post comes to us from Dr. Kim Gulbrandson of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Second Step Music

Music can be powerful in many ways. Humans are hard-wired to respond to music. The sound has an impact on our bodies. Some scientists report that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function.  This suggests potential in music's power to change the brain and affect the way it works (Mannes, 2011).Music offers many social and emotional benefits. It allows for self-expression. It can have powerful effects on people’s emotions (Elias, 2009) since it can create emotional responses and affect mood, and it can help children better identify feelings (Lobo & Winsler, 2006). It provides opportunity for social interaction and positive connections (Miles & Stipek, 2006).  Participation in music can help build self-esteem and confidence (Ebie, 2005; James, 2000). Connections have also been found between music and improved cooperation and self-regulation (Ducenne, 2005; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). Committee for Children’s Second Step program incorporates music into lessons (Early Learning through Grade 5). There are also many other ways to incorporate music to promote children’s social and emotional development. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Provide students with exposure to music and instruments from many different cultures. This can help promote empathy by creating an understanding of and compassion for other cultures (Phillips, 2010).
  • Purchase songs from Dr. Mac Music, director of Music for the PBS hit Jay Jay the Jet Plane. The most recent CD is Ready to Rock Kids, Vol. 3, for ages 4-9.  Additional activities are included to help reinforce the messages in the songs through writing, speaking, acting, drawing, and movement. The songs and activities reinforce concepts such as respect, responsibility, facing and overcoming fear, and resolving conflicts nonviolently.
  • Use music to help students identify emotions. For example, play a song and ask them to tell you how the song made them feel, or how the person in the song feels.
  • Use relaxing music to calm students down after recess. For individual students, dedicate an area of the room where students can listen to music through headphones when they are upset.
  • Play classical music before a test to help reduce anxiety.
  • Encourage students to use music as a way to express themselves. Have them create a short song that incorporates certain vocabulary words or references specific social skills.


Ducenne, L. (2005). The role of age, music and parenting on children's compliance and self-regulation. (Master’s thesis, George Mason University).

Ebie, B. D. (September 2005). “An investigation of secondary school students’ self-reported reasons for participation in extracurricular musical and athletic activities.” Research and Issues in Music Education 3(1).

Elias, M. (2009). “Use music to develop kids’ skills and character.” Edutopia blog. Retrieved from

James, A. R. (2000). ”When I listen to music.” Young Children 55(3), 36–37.

Lobo, Y. B. & Winsler, A. (2006). “The effects of a creative dance and movement program on the social competence of Head Start preschoolers.” Social Development 15(3), 501–519.

Mannes, E. (2011). The power of music: Pioneering discoveries in the new science of song. New York: Walker and Company.

Miles, S. B. & Stipek, D. (2006). “Contemporaneous and longitudinal associations between social behavior and literacy achievement in a sample of low-income elementary school children.” Child Development 77, 103–117.

Phillips, C. (2010). Twelve benefits of music education. Norwalk, CT: Norwalk Youth Symphony. Retrieved from

Shonkoff,  J. P. & Phillips, D. A., eds. (2000). “Introduction.” From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.