The Benefits of Music and Music Education on Children’s Brains

by | Jun 1, 2017 | Education, Music, Music and the Brain |

The Benefits of Music and Music Education on Children's Brains

Study after study are showing that music education can make kids smart.  When your child learns to play a musical instrument, not only does he learn how to make tunes, but he also enhances other capabilities of his brain as well:

    • A 10 year study involving 25,000 students show that music-making improves test scores in standardized tests, as well as in reading proficiency exams (Source: James Catterall, UCLA, 1997).
    • High school music students score higher on the math and verbal portion of SAT, compared to their peers (Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, The College Board, compiled by Music Educators Conference, 2001).
    • The IQ’s of young students who had nine months of weekly training in piano or voice rose nearly three points more than their untrained peers (Study by E. Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto at Mississauga, 2004.)
    • Piano students can understand mathematical and scientific concepts more readily.  Children who received piano training performed 34 percent higher on tests measuring proportional reasoning – ratios, fractions, proportions, and thinking in space and time (Neurological Research, 1997).
    • Pattern recognition and mental representation scores improved significantly in students who were given a 3-year piano instruction (Dr. Eugenia Costa-Giomi study presented at the meeting of the Music Educators National Conference, Phoenix, AZ, 1998).
    • Music students received more academic honors and awards than non-music students.  These music students also have more A and B grades compared to non-music students (National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 First Follow-Up, U.S. Department of Education).
    • More music majors who applied for medical school were admitted compared to those in other majors including English, biology, chemistry and math. (“The Comparative Academic Abilites of Students in Education and in Other Areas of a Multi-focus University,” Peter H. Wood, ERIC Document No. ED327480; “The Case for Music in Schools”, Phi Delta Kappan, 1994)
  • A 2015 study from University of Queensland Australia suggests that the positive impact of engaging in informal music activities with your toddler is even greater than that of reading to him. The benefit to your child is specifically in the areas of acquiring positive social skills, attention regulation and to a lesser but still significant extent, numeracy. When an adult, typically a parent, engages a child in playing with him with music, such as improvising a counting song or making new rhymes to a familiar song, the unique combination of face-to-face interaction, creativity and sound results in learning that is reinforced by positive, empathic emotional relationship.
  • Musical training before age 7 is linked with more white matter in the corpus callosum part of the brain, as well as better performance on visual sensorimotor synchronization tasks, according to a study conducted by scientists from Concordia University and the Montreal Neurological Institute Hospital at McGill University.
  • A study has found that music lessons for kids make their minds sharper when they grow older. According to study researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, a neurologist at the Emory University School of Medicine,”Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging. Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.”
  • A research from Northwestern University conclude that music lessons taken in childhood could benefit your kid’s brain later in life, even if he does not continue taking lessons into adulthood. The researchers have found that brain responses to speech are faster among older adults who took music lessons even if they have not taken music lessons in a long time. The benefits seem to be stronger the longer a person took music lessons as a child.
  • A study conducted by Fred Travis, Maharishi University of Management in the US, Harald Harung, Oslo University College in Norway, and Yvonne Lagrosen, University West in Sweden shows that musician’s brains are highly developed in a way that makes musicians alert, interested in learning, and disposed to see the whole picture, calm and playful.

Other research also linked music education and music making with increased language discrimination and development, improved school grades, and better-adjusted social behavior.

Why does this happen?  What is at work here? There are a number of theories.

One of them is that exposure to music offers many benefits to a child’s brain. It promotes language acquisition, listening skills, memory, and motor skills. Musical experiences integrate these different skills simultaneously, resulting in developing multiple brain neural connections

Researchers think that since piano and music-learning involve appreciating the length of notes in proportion to others (half-note has half-duration when played compared to whole note, etc), when a child plays music, he exercises the part of his brain that processes proportional thinking.

A grasp of proportional math and fractions is required for students to understand math at higher levels.  Children who do not master these areas of math cannot understand more advanced math which is important in high-tech fields.

Also, exposure to music improves spatial-temporal reasoning. This is the ability to see disassembled parts and mentally putting them back together. Math skills also depend on this kind of reasoning

Learning musical instruments also involves interpreting notes and musical symbols that the brain sees to form melodies – a series of sounds that vary with time.  Music making therefore enhances the brain’s “hard-wiring” for the ability to visualize and transform objects in space and time.

Also, learning to play music develops discipline that is beneficial to academic achievement.

“With music lessons, because there are so many different facets involved–such as memorizing, expressing emotion, learning about musical interval and chords–the multidimensional nature of the experience may be motivating the [IQ] effect,” said study author E. Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto at Mississauga.

study by University of Southern California published in 2016 finds that learning to play musical instruments accelerates the brain development in young children, particularly areas that are responsible for processing sound, language development, speech perception and reading skills. In the study, neuroscientists found that auditory systems of children who receive music instructions were fine-tuned and could accelerate language development and reading, as well as other abilities.

A study from Boston Children’s Hospital suggests that learning an instrument also develops the brain’s executive functions which are coordinated in the brain’s frontal lobe. It allows the child to manage time and attention, organize his thoughts and regulate his behavior. These are skills that are important in school success, as well as in adult life.

Music also teaches your child that if he works hard at something, he will gradually get better. A life lesson that is also valuable in later life.

See also The Benefits of Art to your Kid’s Intelligence

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