Music and ADHD: A Quick Guide for Parents

Music and ADHDWe all love music. Now we know it can help attention span for kids with ADHD.

Bono once famously said, “Music can change the world because it can change people.” This sentiment is true on a number of levels, including helping people with attention deficit disorders control the symptoms of their condition.

According to Psychology Today, music may be used to help people manage ADHD. In a recent article posted online, Larry Maucieri Ph.D, ABPP-CN reports that people trained in music have an overwhelming tendency to perform better in many areas, including attention span and memory. It is theorized that part of the reason music affects ADHD in a positive way is because it increases dopamine levels, which, when deficient, may cause or contribute to ADHD.

Different strokes

It is easy to believe that only slow, classical melodies can increase attention span. That isn’t the case, however, as different brains interpret music in different ways. For some, heavy metal may help them find a center of balance. Others may prefer hip-hop, while others still prefer the soulful twang of country music. But one thing is universally true, and that is that learning to play music offers benefits that can’t be measured in tempo.

How does it work?

Regardless of the kind of music your child enjoys, a part of his or her brain is triggered that may help regulate the symptoms of ADHD. Music not only provides structure; it essentially gives the ADHD brain a roadmap for other activities. Melodies additionally fire up neurotransmitters in the brain, which can improve overall function over time. Also worth mentioning is that music, and specifically playing an instrument, can be used as a social activity and to teach children with attention disorders the ability to follow along and wait, when necessary. Some studies suggest that learning to do things through rhythmic exercises can even improve the academic performance of children with ADHD.

Getting started

Your child does not have to have any prior experience or creative talent in order to reap the benefits of music. The first step is to determine what type of instrument is most comfortable for the child to hold and use. Children who are able to sit still and are good with their hands may excel with the guitar or piano. The clarinet, saxophone, and other wind instruments are an option for children who have problems sitting still, as these instruments can be played while walking. It really doesn’t matter your child’s age when he or she picks up their first instrument. But since most parents recognize attention disorders in elementary school, the sooner the better.

Selecting an instrument

  • Trumpet, clarinet, or saxophone: These brass instruments are available in a range of styles from beginner to expert. A student model, which is typically more affordable and made with the learner in mind, is more than sufficient for a first-time player. When determining which instrument is right for your child, your biggest decision here will be to buy new or used. You also need to take into consideration your child’s ability—and willingness—to perform common maintenance tasks, including keeping the mouthpiece clean. There are many onlines resources to consult when buying your instrument. For example, check out this saxophone buying guide.


  • From dreadnought to dobro, there are dozens of styles of guitars. For a young student, however, a 30-to-36-inch-sized acoustic or mini electric is more than enough to learn.’s guitar size chart can help you decide.


  • Keyboard/piano. For most kids, a keyboard will suffice. There are almost as many types of keyboards as there are guitars, and they range in size from small 25-key models to those with 88 keys, the size of a traditional piano. Cost will play a factor, as well as keyboard features. Some keyboards simply play like a piano, while others offer polyphonic capabilities that will help your child mix and master multiple harmonies from one machine.


Alternate involvement

If an instrument is out of your budget or if you are unsure how long interest will last, ask your child’s school about programs that offer access to musical equipment. Most states make provisions for students with learning disabilities, such as ADHD, so you may have resources not offered in the general curriculum. Likewise, most communities have schools that cater to music; check with your local arts council or music store, they should be able to give you any info you need.

Don’t push a particularly difficult skill if you see your child struggling; doing so many discourage him from trying new things later. Instead, help him practice skills they have already mastered or shown proficiency. Keep them going and remind them of their commitment, especially if you have signed them up for an after-school program at their request. Ask them to dedicate a half an hour outside of class three times each week to their instrument; if that is overwhelming, break it up into more frequent but shorter sessions, which are easier to manage. If they simply refuse to pick it up, have them do research on the instrument instead or watch a documentary on music history. This may re-spark their interest and have them strumming or plugging away without your intervention.

No matter what type of instrument your children want to learn, let them set the tone for how quickly they want to progress. You may not see improvements right away, but know that the learning process is important. Your child will have to learn not only how to play his or her instrument, but also how to accept failure and overcome adversity when faced with each new challenge.

Article by Charles Carpenter

For more information on how music therapy helps the symptoms of ADHD, visit