There’s even more reason to get your child involved in making some. A recent study suggests students who take music courses score much higher on math, science and English exams when compared to their peers who don’t. The latest study was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, but adds to already published research that suggests music lessons are great brain builders.
The latest study found that high school students who took music courses scored quite a bit better on science, math and English exams than their peers who didn’t take music courses. Sadly, when looking to trim budgets and get extra time in for ‘test-taking strategies,’ school systems cut fine arts, and music particularly, out of the curriculum. Research suggests that is about the worst thing they could do, though, as the benefits of music lessons for kids are numerous, and research continues to show those who do engage in music lessons score better in tests and are more well-rounded when it comes to college applications.
Peter Gouzouasis is a University of British Columbia education professor and the lead investigator in the study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology. He said that when it comes to the belief that students who spend time in music courses over math, science or English courses do poorly on tests, that’s just not founded. He says that their research proved that belief wrong and instead found that the more the students engaged with music, the better they actually did in those core subjects.
More, students who learned to play instruments in elementary school and who continued playing those instruments through high school didn’t just score significantly higher on core subjects, but were as much as an academic year ahead of their peers who didn’t do the same. They measured this using exam grades, and found that despite differences in socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, gender or prior experiences and learning in English and math, those who took music lessons did better.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that the earlier your child starts music lessons, the stronger the connections were in their brains. That study found that there is a ‘sensitive period’ between the ages of six and eight where musical training and brain development work in a collaborative way that produces long-lasting changes in the brain’s structure and motor abilities. Learning to play an instrument early gives connection and coordination between hands– a connection that is accompanied by visual and/or auditory stimuli that also can boost brain connections between the sensory and motor regions of the brain. This impacts the framework for learning for a child.
Dr. Gouzouasis’s research looked at students in British Columbia schools between 2012 and 2015. This was over 112,000 students who completed at least one standardized test for math, science and English. The determining factor for student lessons was that the students studied at least one instrumental course as part of the regular curriculum. These courses included band, orchestra, jazz band, concert choir, conservatory piano and vocal jazz.
They found the predictive relationships between academic achievement and those in music education was more pronounced in those who took an instrumental lesson rather than in those who studied vocal music. This suggested that skills children learn in instrumental music can transfer to students’ learning in school in broad ways.
Dr. Martin Guhn is an assistant professor in UBC’s school of population and public health. He was also a co-investigator of the study and said that when learning to read music, a student has significant cognitive demand and practice. They have to develop hand-eye coordination, learn to read the music notation, listen keenly and if in an ensemble, develop team skills and discipline. Building those skills leads to enhancing their cognitive capabilities, as well as their executive functioning, self-efficacy and even their motivation for learning in school.
And this research is so essential because school districts seem not just to be pulling music education back, but getting rid of it altogether. The researchers of the latest study hope that their findings help parents and administrators realize the value of music education, specifically when compared to math and literacy learning benefits. Dr. Gouzouasis considers it a bit ironic in that the defunding of music programs to bulk up English and math scores is actually what may be contributing to poorer scores in the first place. He says music education just might be the very thing that would improve academic achievement all around, and help students learn more holistically in schools.
Benefits of Music Lessons For Kids Reach Beyond Beautiful Music
Study after study shows that music education can provide numerous benefits to children, including with their socialization and cognitive functioning. Music education also helps the academic performance of kids too in several different ways. Some are:
- Higher scores on standardized testing. No, that’s not the biggest reason you should look into music lessons for your children, but if your kids are part of a public (or even private in some situations) school system, you are no stranger to standardized testing. While they may be snapshots of a student’s achievement at a specific time, they are still the stuff that many school districts (and programs and scholarships) place merit in, and so better scores never hurt. The United States Department of Education directed a 10-year study that showed the scores of students on the ACT and SAT tests were better in music students than when compared to those of students who did not have music education. These scores were consistent despite differences in socioeconomic status, which is important when looking at student success and earning potential as those ultimately affect their own socioeconomic status as adults.
- Reduced Drug Use Rates. A study in Texas found that students who have instrumental music education had the lowest overall lifetime use and abuse numbers when it came to alcohol, illegal drugs and tobacco products. The lack of those in a student’s life positively adds to academic environments and success, and can even raise safety and security for the students and their schools and neighborhoods.
- Better Management of Time and Organization. In a day and age where children are often being tasked in schools with things that are not necessarily developmentally appropriate, music lessons and the learning of how to play an instrument can help them in their time management and executive functioning. This leads to better organization. And, believe it or not, there are studies that show the addition of music lessons inadvertently forces the learning of better time management and organization skills while they learn to balance all their obligations.
- Increased Pattern Recognition. Music is patterning. It’s built on the repetition of notes and chords. In music, melodies, harmonies, refrains and counter-melodies all end up repeating in many ways through pieces and music students learn to recognize those patterns. More, they learn to understand the differences in the pattern’s components, and this transfers to their attention to variances in subjects from biology to grammar. Life is full of patterns, and the recognition and application of those in music transfers to many different areas in ‘real life,’ including academically.
- Real-Life Application In The World. Speaking of patterns in life, believe it or not, music lessons can relate to science, particularly physical science. If a student has a good grasp of music components like pitch and tone and acoustics, they may have a better, more real-life application when it comes to sound waves and how they work in the physical science sense.
- Diverse Thinking. Students who take music lessons typically have a greater appreciation for the fine arts. They tend to recognize the beauty and nuances of other arts as well–performance or visual, and they tend to have more multicultural views because they are most likely exposed to different genres of music and composers. They learn to find and appreciate wider ranges of music and artistic styles and can relate to different styles in a way that their non-musical peers may find difficult because of the lack of exposure.
- Propensity For Committed Teamwork. Students who take music lessons often have a better understanding of teamwork. While many think this can only be fostered in team sports scenarios, music education actually can lead to similar teamwork ethics. Especially in higher grades where there are chorale performances or marching band experiences, students who play music instruments understand the need to perform their best individually but within a team as well. Solo performances often contribute to team successes in competitive settings, and this allows a music student to excel individually and within a group setting as well.
- Camaraderie That Lasts. Students who play musical instruments, particularly into their high school years, graduate with a group of musical peers who on average have higher successes in life. This can help a student create a network of opportunities in many areas–furthering their educations, getting jobs, etc. Not to mention, young adult friendships into college and beyond often come from their high school music playing days, and playing a musical instrument can set your student up for lifelong friendships.
Building Empathy: Unexpected Benefits Of Music Lessons For Children
Research suggests that music can give people greater empathy, and when building empathy in children, music lessons can make a difference in not just academics. Music has been shown to foster empathy and feeling for others as human beings. In a world where we want desperately to reduce bullying and break the prejudice walls that seem to block our children regularly, learning how to play a musical instrument may actually lead to learning how to relate to other human beings in positive ways. When children recognize their similarities, they are more likely to feel empathetic toward one another. If they find that they share something with another of a different race, gender, or value system, that shared thing can bring them together and help them relate. When two children play the violin together, they focus on the music and their shared instrument, not their differences in socioeconomic status or skin color.
Additionally, children who take music lessons and play musical instruments with other children find they nurture each other more when they mirror each other and help each other solve problems as they have shared experiences in their music lessons and classes.
What Music Instruments Should Your Child Learn How To Play?
So, you’ve decided your child (or you! It’s never too late!) should learn to play a musical instrument because the benefits of music lessons for kids are just too great to pass up. But what should they play? What’s the ‘best’ instrument for a kid to learn, and why?
If you’re really looking for the brain benefits music lessons for kids, you’re going to want to go with an instrument that gives both hemispheres of your child’s brain a workout. Basically, anything with harmony or that has them using both hands at the same time for the same purpose. Anything that would have them cross the midline while doing so adds extra benefits in that you’ll be developing midline crossing at the same time you’re taxing the brain. Our hands have almost 50% of our body’s nerve endings, and using them makes a significant impact on our brains.
So piano or keyboard are fabulous first instruments to play, and not just because they sound beautiful and require your child to sit and focus. With piano, you have to play the rhythm, the harmony and the melody at the same time, and this practice for your brain translates in a big way, believe it or not, to classroom success in writing and reading.
Don’t believe us? See for yourself:
Learning to play the piano can make a significant life impact on brain development and speech, and we love the Roland FP-10 digital keyboard for beginners and pros alike. What do we love about it?
One of the most noticeable things is that it’s super lightweight for the keyboard power that it has. It’s about 28 pounds, which makes it great for portability and particularly when you are using it for music lessons, you could feasibly practice anywhere you can take it. We love that it also has an included foot pedal so that your beginner can practice even if you don’t have a piano, though it doesn’t allow for half-pedaling. That said, half-pedaling is more advanced, so for your beginner to mid-player, it will do nicely.
But we mostly love the affordability for such a state of the art piece of equipment. If you are serious about your child learning piano and growing with it, you’ll get a great value for a reasonable price. It’s great for starters because there are apps that your little can use to practice, and you can even ‘break’ the keyboard in two so you and your learner have the ability to play and practice together. Roland has an app (Piano Partner) that gets high ratings, and we also like Piano Wizard Academy, though it’s a paid service. And, this is a keyboard that could feasibly last them many years of playing.
Guitar is another excellent musical instrument for children that has lots of value in that it also incorporates the use of both hands doing different things at the same time, but also the use of midline crossing for kids and bilateral movement that occupational therapists say is so essential to their regulatory system developing appropriately.
We were lucky enough to test one of the coolest guitars we’ve found for kids in a while, and talk to the Rafael Atijas, who developed the concept of The Loog when he was a Master’s student at NYU. The original Loog Guitar launched as a Kickstarter in 2011 and then was relaunched in 2017 with the current lineup.
Atijas said that part of his Master’s thesis was to create a business plan for an innovative idea, and he wanted to do something that blended his passion for music and design together. His niece was six-years-old at the time and had a cheap kid guitar. Being a musician, he knew that no kid would ever really be able to learn with something cheap like that. He realized he could design something fun, easy and enticing for kids to play. The Loog Guitar was born, and kids love the bright colors, the cool app and options on the app for play, and the fact that they can transfer what they learn on the three strings over to any six-string guitar. Atijas loves that they’re helping kids gain skills that will help them be better in school and live better lives–in a fun and universal way like music.
We also love that they value creating their products with sustainable practices. Atijas says it’s important that they source the wood only from responsibly managed forests and they don’t use exotic woods and scarce materials so they can be good to the planet too.
So get your kids on the road to rock star status. Or at the very least, better cognitive and executive functioning skills and beautiful music for a lifetime!
Photo: Ronnachai Palas/Shutterstock