Music Learning & Your Brain
The Developmental Benefits of Music Education
The benefits of quality music education are immense. Beyond the sheer joy that people experience in making music, studies over the past decade have shown us some amazing things about music and the development of young minds. Study after study has demonstrated that the process of learning to read and play music actually stimulates important areas of the brain. This can lead to accelerated rates of learning and comprehension in math, science and reading which, in turn, results in improved attitudes towards learning and better behavior in schools.The following is only a sample of the research that is currently available.
Music Makes a Difference
The American Psychological Association wrote:
Piano lessons pay off in unexpected ways: According to a new study, children with music training had significantly better verbal memory than their counterparts without such training, plus, the longer the training, the better the verbal memory. Psychologists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong studied 90 boys between age six and fifteen. Half had musical training as members of their school’s string orchestra program. The other 45 participants were schoolmates with no musical training.The researchers, led by Agnes S. Chan, Ph.D., gave the children verbal memory tests, to see how many words they recalled from a list, and a comparable visual memory test for images. Students with musical training recalled significantly more words than the untrained students. There were no such differences for visual memory. 1
Music Enhances Higher Brain Function
Music lessons have been shown to improve a child’s performance in school. A research team exploring the link between music and intelligence reports that music training - specifically piano instruction - is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children’s abstract reasoning skills which are necessary for learning math and science. This experiment included three groups of pre-schoolers, each group was given different training:
- private piano/keyboard lessons and singing lessons
- private computer lessons
- no training
After six months, those children who received piano/keyboard training performed 34% higher on tests measuring spatial-temporal ability than the others. These findings indicate that music uniquely enhances higher brain functions required for mathematics, science and engineering.2
Improves Reading & Math Performances
A research team studying first graders from two Rhode Island, US elementary schools found that students who participated in an “enriched, sequential skill building music program” dramatically increased their math and reading performance.3
Music study can help children understand advanced math concepts. A grasp of proportional math and fractions is a prerequisite to math at higher levels and children who do not master these areas cannot understand more advanced math critical to high-tech fields.Music involves ratios, fractions, proportions and thinking in space and time. Second-grade students were given four months of piano keyboard training in addition to use of a newly designed math software program. The group scored over 27% higher on proportional math and fractions tests than children who used only the math software.4
Provides Important Experiences
Musical activities provide children with important experiences that can help them develop physical coordination, timing, memory, visual, aural and language skills. When they work to increase their command of music and exercise musical skills in the company of others, they gain important experience with self-paced learning, mental concentration and a heightened personal and social awareness.5
Linked to Scholarly Success
Data from the US showed that music participants received more academic honors and awards than non-music students and that the percentage of music participants receiving grades of A, A/B, and B was higher than the percentage of non-participants receiving those grades.6A ten-year study tracking more than 25,000 students shows that music-making improves test scores. Regardless of socioeconomic background, music-making students get higher marks in standardized tests than those who had no music involvement. The test scores studied were not only in standardized tests, such as the SAT (school admission test), but also in reading proficiency exams.7The world’s top academic countries place a high value on music education. Hungary, Netherlands and Japan stand atop worldwide science achievement and share a strong commitment to music education. All three countries have required music training at the elementary and middle school levels, both instrumental and vocal, for several decades. The centrality of music education to learning in the top-ranked countries seems to contradict the United States’ focus on math, science, vocabulary and technology.8
1 Music Training Improves Verbal but Not Visual Memory,” American Psychological Association, Neuropsychology, Vol. 17, No. 3.
2 Neurological Research, Feb. 1997; Shaw, Rauscher, et al.
3 Nature, May 23, 1996; Gardiner, Fox Jeffery and Knowles.
4 Neurological Research, March, 1999.
5 “Music and Your Child,” American Music Conference publication; Frank R. Wilson, M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Neurology - University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco.
6 National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 First Follow-Up (1990), U.S. Department of Education.
7 Dr. James Catterall, UCLA, 1997.
8 1988 International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IAEEA) Test.