DROP THE BEETHOVEN: Seven Benefits of Music Instruction on the Developing Brain By Courtney Pagel, UW-Eau Claire Intern
So, we’ve all heard the rumor that listening to classical music will make your baby smarter. Well, as many of us have found out, that’s not really true. However, while listening to Mozart won’t make your baby smarter, playing Mozart might. That’s right, the 100 billion neurons that make up a person’s brain is like a learning biography, and if something is repeated enough, it can permanently change the way a person thinks! Such is the case with children and music instruction. Susan Hallam of the Institute of Education for the University of London, UK has gathered several studies documenting the incredible benefits music on the developing brain. Here are just a few of the ways a child’s brain can be positively impacted by music instruction.
- Enhances Perceptual and Language Skills
While an obvious benefit of music education is the careful auditory processing associated with determining pitch, it is important to remember this skill extends past music itself. Language has its own varying degrees of pitches and rhythms, and music instruction can help in identifying these sounds. A study done in 2007 shows musical training better helps children distinguish between rapidly changing sounds, increasing awareness between different sounds in words (Wong, Skoe, Russo, Dees, & Kraus). Musical training improves how the brain processes speech.
- Increases Literacy Skills
It only follows that if musical training can improve a child’s ability to learn language, it can also help enhance their literacy skills. Ron Butzlaff of the Journal of Aesthetic Education, found a positive relationship between musical instruction and standardized reading scores while analyzing 24 different studies on childhood literacy. Because kids are better able to distinguish between different kinds of sounds, they learn how to make these sounds and apply them to written language.
- Boosts Numeracy Skills
Another part of literacy is the processing of numbers and math, which has had mixed results in relation to music education. While some studies find a connection between music education and high math scores, there is not enough of a relationship to suggest it may be a cause. So, before you start thinking music will make your kid a math whiz, it is important to remember that every child learns differently, and their math skills may or may not be affected by musical instruction.
- Supplements Intellectual Development
“Intellectual development” sounds like a very broad term, but it is intended to measure a child’s spatial awareness (i.e., the relationship between two or more objects) as well as being aware of one’s place in a physical space. For example, if a child can tell whether a ball on the ground is far away from them or not. A study examining the effects of musical instruction on spatial reasoning showed children with instructions in keyboard scored significantly higher on spatial recognition tests (Hallam 275). But there is also a debate about what kind of music helps kids’ intellectual development. Researchers from the University of Oxford discovered rhythmic instruction contributes more to literacy and math skills, while education in pitch and melody support language development.
- Encourages Creativity
There’s no question having an artistic outlet like drawing and painting fosters creativity in a lot of people, especially children. But how can music, something that is so structured and distinct, encourage creativity in kids? For whatever reason, researchers haven’t really paid much attention to this. However, a few older studies, including one done in 1969, found that out of 173 music and 45 non-music high-school students, the musically trained students scored higher on several creativity tests (Hallam 277). Creativity in music is something I think should be studied more because it would give kids more confidence in their sounds and rhythms if they had time to just experiment.
- Contributes to Positive Personal and Social Development
For many children, playing in a band or singing in a choir can have enormous benefits to their social and emotional health. Many students who participated in musical activities reported talking more with their parents and teachers, the social benefits of which lead to higher self-esteem, higher self-awareness, and an improved self-image. Also, students reported the benefits of contributing to the group and to a larger goal. The social benefits of music education are endless and this is by no means an exhaustive list. However, it is important to realize that for a student to reap the social and personal benefits of music instruction, those experiences must be positive, so encouragement and support from parents and teachers goes a long way.
- Leads to Increased Physical Development, Health, and Well-Being
The last benefit I want to highlight is the increase in physical development, health, and well-being caused by participating in musical activities. Even though music is not considered a physical activity, it’s difficult to deny the enhanced lung function and fine motor skills that comes with playing an instrument. On an emotional level, a 2001 study from the Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health found members of a university choir reported improved mood and stress reduction as a result of musical participation. Much like the list of social advantages, the list of possible health benefits is endless.
Before you or your neighbors start looking for music instructors around the area, it is important to remember children won’t reap any of these benefits if they are not actively engaged with the instruction; music should be something the child wants to do, not something they’re forced to do. Additionally, this is a passion that can begin at home; parents can foster musical creativity in children by encouraging their singing and dancing, and even their banging on desks and tables, pots and pans. Music is also one of the only activities that stimulates the entire brain, and those seven benefits are only a handful of a countless number which have yet to be experienced by a new generation of students. So, before you turn on that Beethoven sonata, let your child sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for the twelfth time today; as you can see, it’s worth it.
2017 Upcoming FAMILY MUSIC Events at the Heyde Center
Heebie Jeebies ft. Glen Everhart, Sunday, November 5 at 2pm Kids will wiggle, giggle, and dance along with the fun music of Glen Everhart.
Northwinds British Brass Band, Sunday, November 26 at 2pm Experience the power of local musicians participating in a full brass band concert. YOUTH UNDER AGE 18 ARE FREE!
Holiday Concert by Hillcrest and Southview After-School Choirs, Tuesday, December 5 at 7:00pm FREE concert by the after-school choirs of two local elementary schools.
Christmas Singalong, Thursday, December 7 at 6:00pm FREE singalong concert for the entire family led by members of the Chippewa Valley Community Chorus. Beverages and snacks available for sale.
Hallam, Susan. “The Power of Music: Its Impact on the Intellectual, Social and Personal
Development of Children and Young People.” International Journal of Music Education, vol. 28, no. 3, 2010, pp. 269–289., doi:10.1177/0255761410370658.
Locker, Melissa. “Music Can Alter Your Child’s Brain.” Time, Time, 16 Dec. 2014,