The Benefits of Music

Today I’d like to share with you, rather than a story, an article on why it is good for children (and adults!) to learn music.  The article was written and researched by Iain Rossouw, South African music teacher and songwriter.

Here it is, blogged with his permission:


The Benefits of Music – A Review

[ Compiled by Iain Rossouw – Guitar Tutor- (+27) 082 2907 419 ]

As parents, what is our duty toward our children? Surely it is to prepare them in the best possible way we can find for being the most successful they can be in adult life. We all know that where you are at any point in life is determined by what you have done and thought in your life.

As parent it is paramount that we give our children all the development opportunities we can to ensure that they achieve their maximum success and goals as adults.

To this end I have compiled a list of benefits that the study and practice of music will give our children. This list is extensive and supported by a growing body of evidence both scientifically and psychologically. They are grouped in such a manner to first highlight the intellectual benefits (first school and then university) because this is first and foremost the building block upon which all other success is based. The next group of benefits are social advantages and then evidence of the success that the study of music gives to our children as they develop in their careers as adults.



Elementary school:

Students in top-quality music programs scored 22% better in English and 20% better in mathematics than students in deficient music programs. (1)

Middle school:

Students in top-quality instrumental programs scored 17% higher in mathematics than children in schools without a music program, and 33% higher in mathematics than students in a deficient choral program. (2)

Music enhances the process of learning. The systems it nourishes, which include our integrated sensory, attention, cognitive, emotional and motor capacities, are shown to be the driving forces behind all other learning. (3)

Young Children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year, compared to children who do not receive musical training. Musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics, and IQ. (4)

Data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 showed that music participants received more academic honors and awards than non-music students, and that the percentage of music participants receiving As, As/Bs, and Bs was higher than the percentage of non- participants receiving those grades. (5)

Nearly 100% of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science, and Technology (for high School students) play one or more musical instruments. This led the Siemens Foundation to host a recital at Carnegie Hall in 2004, featuring some of these young people. After which a panel of experts debated the nature of the apparent science/music link. (6)

Students of lower socio-economic status who took music lessons in grades 8–12 increased their math scores significantly as compared to non-music students. But just as important, reading, history, geography and even social skills soared by 40%. (7)

Learning in the arts nurtures motivation, including active engagement, disciplined and sustained attention, persistence and risk taking.  It also increases attendance and educational aspirations. (8)

The College Board identifies the arts as one of the six basic academic subject areas students should study in order to succeed in college. (9)

In an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data on more than 25,000 secondary school students (NELS:88, National Education Longitudinal Survey), researchers found that students who report consistent high levels of involvement in instrumental music over the middle and high school years show “significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12.” This observation holds regardless of students’ socio-economic status, and differences in those who are involved with instrumental music vs. those who are not are more significant over time. (10)

A research team exploring the link between music and intelligence reported that music training is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children’s abstract reasoning skills, the skills necessary for learning math and science. (11)

Learning and performing music actually exercise the brain – not merely by developing specific music skills, but also by strengthening the synapses between brain cells…What is important is not how well a student plays but rather the simultaneous engagement of senses, muscles, and intellect. Brain scans taken during musical performances show that virtually the entire cerebral cortex is active while musicians are playing. Can you think of better exercise for the mind/brain? In short, making music actively engages the brain synapses, and there is good reason to believe that it increases the brain’s capacity by increasing the strengths of connections among neurons. (12)

Researchers at the University of Montreal used various brain imaging techniques to investigate brain activity during musical tasks and found that sight-reading musical scores and playing music both activate regions in all four of the cortex’s lobes; and that parts of the cerebellum are also activated during those tasks. (13)

Researchers in Leipzig found that brain scans of musicians showed larger planum temporale (a brain region related to some reading skills) than those of non-musicians. They also found that the musicians had a thicker corpus callosum (the bundle of nerve fibers that connects the two halves of the brain) than those of non-musicians, especially for those who had begun their training before the age of seven. (14)

Researchers at the University of Munster in Germany reported their discovery that music lessons in childhood actually enlarge the brain. An area used to analyze the pitch of a musical note is enlarged 25% in musicians, compared to people who have never played an instrument. The findings suggest the area is enlarged through practice and experience. The earlier the musicians were when they started musical training, the bigger this area of the brain appears to be. (15)

Students at risk of not successfully completing their high school educations cite their participation in the arts as reasons for staying in school. Factors related to the arts that positively affected the motivation of these students included a supportive environment that promotes constructive acceptance of criticism and one where it is safe to take risks. (16)

Students in two Rhode Island elementary schools who were given an enriched, sequential, skill-building music program showed marked improvement in reading and math skills. Students in the enriched program who had started out behind the control group caught up to statistical equality in reading, and pulled ahead in math. (17)

Young children with developed rhythm skills perform better academically in early school years. (18)

 Students who are rhythmically skilled also tend to better plan, sequence, and coordinate actions in their daily lives. (19)

Music education promotes a habit of excellence.

Students who learn to play music experience the intrinsic value of excellence. One bad note can ruin a performance. These lessons translate to other academic areas and life skills—employers seek out individuals who can demonstrate proven abilities and commitment to quality work.(20)

 In music, a mistake is a mistake; the instrument is in tune or not, the notes are well played or not, the entrance is made or not. It is only by much hard work that a successful performance is possible. Through music study, students learn the value of sustained effort to achieve excellence and the concrete rewards of hard work. (21)

Through music education, students learn very useful and necessary skills and traits beneficial to the rest of their lives. There is solid, concrete evidence that the study of music increases a students intelligence. It strengthens them emotionally and socially as well. Strong developments in these areas will inevitably have positive advancements on a students entire life. (22)

Skills learned through the discipline of music may transfer to study skills, communication skills, and cognitive skills useful in every part of a child’s studies at school, though. An in-depth Harvard University study found evidence that spatial-temporal reasoning improves when children learn to make music. (23)

Precision, discipline and focus: In addition to fostering the development of discipline, music enables children to learn precision and accuracy. I know of no other form of education that can help students learn this kind of focused precision at a young age. Students learn to pay close attention to exactly how a particular skill looks, sounds and feels. The brain learns to notice more detail.

Patience: Students gain the valuable quality of patience, especially with a more complex instrument like violin or piano. Each skill requires hundreds of repetitions to become easy. Students must have the confidence that they will get it if they just keep practicing.

Problem-solving and persistence: Practicing is always about problem-solving. Why do I make a mistake here or why does it sound squeaky? What solutions can I come up with to fix the mistake? Good practice techniques require creativity and patience to identify and solve the problem. From this, students learn persistence. No passage is impossible to play correctly. It’s just a matter of finding the right way of practicing.

Fine motor skills: “I have seen the development of fine motor skills in my violin students, particularly the ability to isolate certain muscles and joints as well as the independent use of each finger.”

Healthy habits: Learning a musical instrument requires good posture and the ability to keep muscles relaxed even while doing something challenging. Students also strengthen muscles and gain flexibility, both of which contribute to overall health.

Memory: As music is memorized, the capabilities of memory are greatly enhanced. Education then becomes a matter of drawing conclusions and making connections between concepts rather than an exertion to merely memorize all the material. The younger a child can begin learning music, the greater the benefit for their short- and long-term memory.

Creativity: The wonderful thing about music is that, although it requires precision and accuracy in terms of rhythms, notes and playing technique, when it comes to interpretation, there is so much room for individuality. The skill of improvisation allows even greater creativity. Students learn to think for themselves and make their own artistic choices rather than being told how to do everything.

Cultural Understanding: Students are introduced to music of different cultures and from different times. This exposure is useful for kids to learn about and appreciate the differences and individuality of all people.

Confidence and work ethic: Students learn that if they apply themselves intelligently, efficiently, and persistently they achieve the desired result.(24)


Playing music promotes cooperation and teamwork. An orchestra depends on every musician to work together in a performance. Ability to work in a team is often cited as a key workforce skill and one that is rarely developed in classroom settings that measure individual performance. While sports also develop team skills, only music develops these skills in a non-competitive environment.(25)

Music education develops a quick mind. When playing a composition, thoughts must be quickly turned into action. Music researcher Frances Rauscher, Ph.D. says, “The combination of constant vigilance and forethought coupled with ever-changing physical responses is an educational experience of unique value.”(26)


In a 1999 Columbia University study, students in the arts were found to be more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self-confident, and better able to express their ideas. These benefits exist across socioeconomic levels.(27)

A report released by the Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that students involved in courses beyond the required ‘basics’ were less likely to be involved with drugs. The study went on to show that ‘Secondary students who participated in Band or Orchestra reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances’ (Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana or any illicit drug).(28)

College-age musicians are emotionally healthier than non-musician counterparts.(29)



College admissions officers continue to cite participation in music as an important factor in making admissions decisions. They claim that music participation demonstrates time management, creativity, expression, and open-mindedness.(30)

Physician and biologist Lewis Thomas studied the undergraduate majors of medical school applicants. He found that 66% of music majors who applied to medical school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group. 44% of biochemistry majors were admitted.(31)

Considering the vast skill set that a music education delivers to students it should be no surprise that students who receive a music education outperform their peers later in life on measures of professional success. A 2007 Harris Interactive poll revealed that 88% of people with graduate degrees had past music education experience. Further, 83% of individuals with incomes above $150,000 participated in music.(32)

The very best engineers and technical designers in the Silicon Valley industry are, nearly without exception, practicing musicians.(33)

There is so much evidence to suggest that music education is key to a child’s academic and life skill development from early childhood education through high school and beyond that it is difficult to recognize that many people consider music education to be expendable in public schools.

As communities consider what they can do to improve their children’s future, music education should be at the top of the list.(34)


From the evidence it is very apparent that the advantages that the study and practice of music gives our children are vast and lifelong. This should be especially important to us as parents because the current economy only favors those that can manage to stand out in their chosen field.

The fact remains that life does not give hand-outs and our children need every edge they can get in an economy with a growing population. We should train brains to stop the brain drain that has become a constant reality over the past twenty years.

[ Compiled by Iain Rossouw – Guitar Tutor- (+27) 082 2907 419 ]


1— Nature Neuroscience, April 2007

2Journal for Research in Music Education, June 2007; Dr. Christopher Johnson, Jenny Memmott

3— From Empathy, Arts and Social Studies, 2000; Konrad, R.R.

4— Dr. Laurel Trainor, Prof. of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behavior at McMaster University, 2006

5—NELS:88 First Follow-up, 1990, National Center for Education Statistics, Washington DC

6—The Midland Chemist (American Chemical Society) Vol. 42, No.1, Feb. 2005

7—From Nature, May 23, 1996; Gardiner, Fox, Jeffrey and Knowles

8— From Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, Arts Education Partnership, 2002

9—Academic Preparation for College: What Students Need to Know and Be Able to Do, 1983 [still in use], The College Board, New York

10Catterall, James S., Richard Chapleau, and John Iwanaga. “Involvement in the Arts and Human Development: General Involvement and Intensive Involvement in Music and Theater Arts.” Los Angeles, CA: The Imagination Project at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, 1999.

11—Shaw, Rauscher, Levine, Wright, Dennis and Newcomb, “Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children’s spatial-temporal reasoning,” Neurological Research, Vol. 19, February 1997

12— From “The Music in Our Minds,” Educational Leadership, Vol. 56, #3; Norman M. Weinberger

13Sergent, J., Zuck, E., Tenial, S., and MacDonall, B. (1992). Distributed neural network underlying musical sight reading and keyboard performance. Science, 257, 106-109.

14Schlaug, G., Jancke, L., Huang, Y., and Steinmetz, H. (1994). In vivo morphometry of interhem ispheric assymetry and connectivity in musicians. In I. Deliege (Ed.), Proceedings of the 3d international conference for music perception and cognition (pp. 417-418). Liege, Belgium.

15—From Nature, April 23, 1998; Christian Pantev, et al

16—From The Role of the Fine and Performing Arts in High School Dropout Prevention, 2002; Barry, N., J. Taylor, and K. Walls

17—Gardiner, Fox, Jeffrey and Knowles, as reported in Nature, May 23, 1996

18( Debby Mitchell, University of Central Florida.)

19TCAMS Professional Resource Center, 2000.

20Dynamic Presentations Unlimited Research; Band Director Focus Groups, December 2001. As referenced in “Discover the Power of Music Education,” Yamaha Advocacy Report, 2002, pg. 2.


22 on September 25, 2009 in

23 Rauscher, Shaw & Ky, 1993


25 CaseForMusicEducation.pdf (Lang Lang International Foundation)

26 University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh; NAMM 1997 publication: “Making Music Makes You Smarter.”

27 The Arts Education Partnership, 1999

28— From Houston Chronicle, January 11, 1998

29— Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Report. Reported in Houston Chronicle, January, 1998

30— The Associated Press, October, 1999

31— As reported in “The Case for Music in the Schools,” Phi Delta Kappan, February 1994

32— Those with More Education and Higher Household Incomes are More Likely to Have Had Music Education: Music education Influences Level of Personal Fulfillment for Many U.S. Adults.” The Harris Poll® #112, November 12, 2007

33—Grant Venerable, “The Paradox of the Silicon Savior,” as reported in “The Case for Sequential Music Education in the Core Curriculum of the Public Schools,” The Center for the Arts in the Basic Curriculum, New York, 1989

34—.– CaseForMusicEducation (Lang Lang International Foundation)