Benefits of Music Education for Children

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- By Dorian Morales

In Plato’s “Republic,” Socrates along with a symposium of nobility famously explore the question, “How do we best educate our children and make society as close to perfect as possible?”

After thought-provoking and often humorous banter, they come to a conclusion that balance between “Music and Gymnastics” creates the foundation of a well-balanced individual.

Gymnastics represented communal sports and exercise for the body, while Music and the Arts nourished the soul.

In today’s schools, music departments are often the first to receive financial cuts, while sports teams are typically last.  This assertion does not denigrate ‘sports’- it merely addresses an imbalance:

“The era of ‘left brain’ dominance and the Information Age that it engendered, is giving way to a new world in which ‘right brain’ qualities- inventiveness, empathy, and meaning predominate.  That’s what business is about today.  This is a hard-headed argument that the arts education is not ornamental but fundamental for economic reasons.  We should be adding and not cutting the arts.” (Pink, 2005)

Here are just a few documented benefits of music education in children:

Increases Brain Function

According to Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of the John Hopkins University, “children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training.  When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain.” (Brown 2003)

Students who receive music education have improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks.  Brain imaging shows changes to the network in the brain associated with such abilities.

This increase in spatial intelligence means that music helps children visualize multi-step problems encountered in math, architecture, engineering, etc.  “Music supports all learning.” (Brown 2003)

A recent Stanford study shows that music engages areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions, and updating events in our memory. (Baker, 2016)

(Check out this 20-second clip of a brain being scanned while listening to music: https://cdnapisec.kaltura.com/index.php/extwidget/preview/partner_id/1392761/uiconf_id/23332312/entry_id/0_ahif5dce/embed/dynamic)

Research from the University of Montreal shows that “engaging in musical activity” uses all four areas of the brain’s cortex controlling thought, memory, and language.  Music stimulates the cerebellum as well, which controls motor control and coordination.

 Language Development

It is common knowledge that songs help young children learn their alphabet, numbers, and even how to tie their shoes.  Foreign Language teachers have long known that songs are a great way to get kids to learn words and phrases in other languages.  Additionally, we have all had the experience of suddenly hearing a song after not hearing it for 20 years, and remembering EVERY word.

“While children come into the world ready to decode sounds and words, music education helps enhance those natural abilities.” (Luehrisen 2003)

Recent studies show that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain that processes language, and can wire the brain’s circuits in targeted ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can help imprint information in a developing mind.

Children who study music tend to have larger vocabularies and more advanced reading skills than their peers who do not partake in music lessons. (Brown 2003)

Improved Test Scores

A 2007 University of Kansas study found that Elementary Schools with “superior music education programs” scored higher on standardized tests (approximately 22% higher in English and 20% higher in math) than schools with “low-quality music programs,” regardless of socioeconomic disparities among the schools or school districts. (Lynch, 2008)

Incredibly, results from the College Entrance Examination Board show that students involved with music education scored 39 points higher on math SAT questions and 53 points higher on verbal questions.

 Develops Physical Skills

Yes, it even does that.

Instruments like percussion develop motor skills and often require movement of the entire body.

Instruments like piano and strings require different actions from the right and left hands simultaneously.  “Instruments not only help develop ambidexterity, but they can also encourage children to become comfortable in naturally uncomfortable positions.  Enhancing coordination and perfecting timing can prepare children for other hobbies, like dance and sports.” (Regester, as quoted by, Kwan 2013)

 Boosts Self-Esteem and Confidence

According to Kristen Regester, Early Childhood Manager Colombia College Chicago, “Lessons offer a forum where children can learn to accept and give constructive criticism.  Turning negative feedback into positive change helps build self-confidence.  Group lessons, in particular, may help children understand that nobody, including themselves or their peers, is perfect, and that everyone has room for improvement.” (Kwan 2013)

“Presenting yourself in public is an important skill whether you become a professional musician or not. This skill is easily transferable to public speaking.”  (Larew, as quoted by, Kwan 2013)

Personally, nothing boosted my self esteem more than regularly performing piano for family, friends, and at recitals. Getting in front of crowds became less daunting, and eventually fun!

 Delayed gratification

Learning an instrument undeniably requires that the student develop a great deal of discipline and patience. Nobody can sit at the piano and immediately sound like Mozart.  It requires humility and acceptance of the fact that we don’t know everything- and that is ok.  Learning a song on the piano is a slow process of incremental gains and occasional frustration.  However, very few things compare to the pride of learning a song from scratch, slowly refining it, and completing it to perfection!

Introduces Children to Other Cultures

Many popular children’s songbooks feature songs and styles from around the world; there is often a token Spanish song, Asian and Middle-Eastern melody, and African rhythm.  This exposure to other traditions often leads to broader worldviews and empathy towards other cultures. (St. George)

“Classical” music explores the traditions of Germany, Austria, Italy and many other parts of Europe, and also takes us back in time, to a world of royalty and courtly dances, a world that many children are very curious to learn about!

Other Benefits

  • Music can be relaxing
  • Builds imagination and intellectual curiosity
  • Fosters creative-thinking
  • Builds “responsible risk-taking.”
  • A University of North Texas study showed that college-aged music students have significantly fewer problems with alcohol abuse, are healthier emotionally, and have a stronger ability to concentrate and study than students in other fields of study. (See link for the results: http://www.unt.edu/news/other/chesky.htm)

Ultimately, music touches us all and speaks to our moods, passions, and desires.  It can truly be described as a universal language.  This amazing video perfectly illustrates this concept: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne6tB2KiZuk)

I will let Plato end this blog post: “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything; It is the essence of order and lends to all that is good, just, and beautiful.” –Plato

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Baker, M. (2003). Music moves brain to pay attention, Stanford study finds. Stanford Medicine. Retrieved from, http://med.stanford.edu/
news/all-news/2007/07/music-moves-brain-to-pay-attention-stanford-study-finds.html

Brown, L. (2003). The Benefits of Music Education. PBS. Retrieved from, http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/music-arts/the-benefits-of-music-education/

Brown, L. (2003). Benefits of Music Education. PBS. Retrieved from, from, http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/music-arts/the-benefits-of-music-education/

Do Something (n.d.). 11 Facts About Music Education. Retrieved from, https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-music-education

Garber, R. (2011). Joyful Public Speaking (from fear to joy). America;s Number One Fear: Public Speaking – that 1993 Bruskin – Goldring Survey. Retrieved from, from http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2011/05/1993-survey-americas-number-one-fear.html

Kwan, A. (2013). 6 Benefits of Music Lessons. Parents. Retrieved from, http://www.parents.com/kids/development/intellectual/benefits-of-music-lessons/

Lynch, B. (2008). Music Boosts Test Scores. The University of Kansas. Retrieved from, http://www.researchmatters.ku.edu/2008/march/music.shtml

Pink, D. (2005). A Whole New Mind- Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World. Riverhead Books.

St. George, Suzy. (2014) 9 Ways Music Education Makes Better Students.  Retrieved from, http://www.amparents.org/how-music-education-makes-better-students/

Study Shows Music Students Abuse Alcohol Lass, Study Better. (1998).  Retrieved from, https://news.unt.edu/news-releases/study-shows-music-students-abuse-alcohol-less-study-better

wiseGEEK (2003). Does Music Education Improve Test Scores? Retrieved from, http://www.wisegeekedu.com/does-music-education-improve-test-scores.htm

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