How Can Music Bring Us Together? Five Ways to Connect as a Family

Words by
Danielle Stahle

FEB 28, 2024

How Can Music Bring Us Together? Five Ways to Connect as a Family

Picture this: It’s a Friday night, and instead of everyone retreating to their own corners of the house, the whole family gathers in the living room. The TV is off, and in its place, a playlist is blasting through the speakers. Why? Because tonight, it’s all about music and bonding.

In this article, we’re going to explore just how music can be the secret ingredient to bring families together.

From impromptu dance parties to road trip sing-alongs, we’ll delve into five ways music can strengthen family ties and create unforgettable memories.

Music Affects Emotions

Have you ever been driving down the road and heard your favorite song on the radio? That rush of joy you feel when you turn up the volume and rock out to your favorite song with the windows down has a scientific explanation. 

two teen girls driving in a car

It’s tempting to think that this excitement comes from a fond memory of the past, reminding you of when you first heard the song. While that is true in part, there’s a lot more to it.

An actual change occurs in the part of the brain that links the memory of hearing music with emotion. Listening to a favorite song from your past triggers the pleasure circuit of the brain and tells it to release a shot of dopamine and other neurochemicals that create a sense of satisfaction.

Sharing experiences like this as a family can be a wonderful way to leverage the good that music has to offer.

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine has been called “the pathway to pleasure,” and is classified as one of the four feel-good hormones along with serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. 

It’s activated by the reward system in the brain and primarily serves to help us feel pleasure. 

When listening to music, dopamine enhances learning, attention, mood, and movement (think of those songs you can’t help but dance to!). 

What is it about music that activates this dopamine release?

How does music reward the brain?

The rhythm, melody, or harmony created in a musical piece sets expectations for the brain as it engages the auditory system. When these expectations are met — such as correctly singing all the words to a ballad — the brain activates the reward pathway and produces dopamine.

Successful predictions become rewarding to the brain by activating neurons of the dopaminergic system and its related areas.

Dr. Patrick E. Savage, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Environment and Information Studies at Keio University

Even when guessing the lyrics wrong, the brain views this game as a learning opportunity. The mere expectation of the next sound can release dopamine as the mind tries to guess the next logical sound or word.

Read more about how music affects us mentally, physically, and socially, along with the benefits of listening to music.

Music Affects Relationships

One of the most important benefits of music is its ability to create a sense of belonging between individuals. Music has been linked to forming both social closeness and familial bonds

Kids typically have a different taste in music than adults, and they use it more to bond with their friends. Nevertheless, parents can still join in the fun.

kids playing illustrated instruments

Whether or not a parent prefers the same artists and genres as their children, as parents choose to engage with their children’s music choices and share experiences with them, they can enjoy deepened relationships and create lasting memories.

From playing “name that tune” with kids to creating playlists with your teens, music is unlike any other tool that brings people together and strengthens family bonds.

Creates social bonds

Researchers have been trying to understand why musicality has existed for centuries. Darwin called it an evolutionary puzzle. But the growing body of knowledge suggests that music plays an integral role in social bonding

One way social bonding forms is through identity fusion.

Source: Cambridge University Press

This “oneness” comes from a sense of belonging to a certain social group and can be created through  shared musical activities.

Teens who attend a school dance, listen to music in the car with friends, or talk about music with their peers engage in social bonding.

With this knowledge, we can leverage music choices and experiences in our families to create deeper social connections.

Creates familial bonds

Kids need to know they are part of a family, even when they sometimes push us away. In today’s fast-paced society where technology is king, we need every chance we can get to bond with them. Music can create opportunities to forge strong family connections.

grandma and granddaughter listening to music together

Research shows that the effects are magnified when social bonding is applied in a family setting. Within the home environment, music creates a deeper, emotional connection.

Whether experiencing the first instances of musical bonding between a mother and infant or listening to music together as a group, family identity and social closeness are fostered and can continue throughout a child’s entire life.

Shared musical activities are often easier for parents of infants, but they are just as critical for parents of toddlers, older children, and teenagers.

Shared musical activities include:

  • Composing musical lyrics
  • Listening to live musical performances
  • Listening to music on the radio
  • Performing music together
  • Playing music together in a band
  • Talking about or discussing favorite songs

This is great news for parents of teenagers who sometimes find it difficult to communicate or form commonalities.

Connecting Through Music

Everyday activities can become powerful opportunities for parents to deepen social bonds with their children. Consider these five activities to add more music to family life.

1. Create a playlist for family outings

Heading on a family road trip? Plan to go boating this summer? Any family outing is a great opportunity to add music and deepen a parent-child bond. 

These family activities naturally lend themselves to creating memorable moments together and encourage social closeness. Couple them with a great playlist and those memories will become part of the family identity and strengthen the bond between everyone. 

2. Perform for each other during karaoke night

When families feel comfortable performing music for one another, they’ll likely feel more comfortable talking together. This may be a helpful way to break the ice for families who are having a hard time finding space for conversations. 

Including favorites from each family member will ensure everyone has a pleasant time. Try to have lyrics available so no one feels intimidated by not knowing the words. 

Don’t know where to begin? Musical soundtracks are always a good place to start. Consider services that provide filters or remove songs with explicit lyrics. 

3. Play your high school favorites

Parents spend so much time getting to know their kids and thinking of what to say — or not say — to help them. It’s important to teach children a little about ourselves. Sharing our identity with our kids from before we were parents can help them see us as people, not just authoritarians

stereo with tapes

They may laugh at us as we tell them about our old-school hair-dos, our retro outfits, and especially our “odd” taste in music, but they will certainly remember what we share and why it’s important to us. 

They may even think we were pretty cool and our stories could inspire them to be more authentic themselves. 

4. Sing in the car

Often, the best chances to connect with children come as part of a daily routine. While kids are busy with extracurricular activities, adults are often the ones driving them. 

Parents can take this opportunity to incorporate music on the drive. Settling on a type of music everyone can enjoy may be a battle, but the concession is worth the effort. 

Besides, you might find out just what kind of music your child likes, and that is important information to have. 

5. Start a dance party

Parents don’t have to be good at dancing to bust a move. Research shows that coordinated, synchronous movement to music can deepen social bonds.

Kids learn to move before they learn to read or sing. To allow them to move is to allow them to be some essential part of themselves with you in an important way.

Aili Bresnahan, Philosophy Professor at the University of Dayton & former dancer

While you may not feel coordinated, you will have successfully created a moment between you and your child that will help them feel closer to you. 

So, turn up the volume and show them your skills! Better yet, ask your teenager to teach you the latest dance trends. It’s guaranteed to be a moment neither of you will forget. 

mom and young son smiling playing piano

Always Worth the Effort

Music’s benefits can be experienced in isolation or used as a powerful tool to connect families. Informal family bonding time can become a treasured, core memory. 

As parents turn off screens and enjoy music together with their kids, they not only help prevent the dangers of excessive screen time, they deepen family connections. 

If you are looking for a safe music streaming platform for kids, check out Gabb Music.

What did we miss?

Any ideas we missed that are worth considering?

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