An Instrumental Part of School: The Benefits of Music Education

Humans have an intrinsic relationship with music. It has been used to communicate, to intimidate, to move people to emotional extremes. One study even discovered that babies’ cries contain the basic intervals commonly found in Western music.

Music is more than just a series of notes and melodies hardwired to your brain. It’s an amazingly educational tool that helps to turn kids into well-rounded adults and develops skills that have become even more important in the modern world. Let’s take a look at the benefits of music education and why you should enroll your kids in music lessons.

Academic Excellence

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In a two-year study conducted in 1996, researchers investigated how music and visual arts affected the academic achievement of first-graders. At the beginning of the school year, students participating in the music and arts curriculum had lower test scores than those not taking part in the curriculum. However, seven months into the school year, the arts curriculum students showed higher scores in math. The next school year, the students who participated in the arts curriculum still showed high math scores. At the end of the study, researchers found that the percentage of students above second-grade-level math was highest for those who had participated in the arts curriculum all two years.

Another study conducted in 2001 looked into the effects of music and math scores in middle and high school students. The students were divided into three groups:

  • Full treatment, comprising students who received 50 minutes of music instruction five times a week
  • Limited treatment, comprising students who received 50 minutes of music instruction just once a week
  • No treatment

Twenty weeks later, the full treatment group showed the highest level of improvement in mathematics.

Countless studies show essentially the same results: music students achieve better results in academics. In 2010, high school students who took 4 years of art and music classes scored (on average) 102 points higher on their SATs. About 66 percent of music majors are accepted into medical programs, making it the major with the highest percentage of accepted medical students.

The National Education Association found that low-income students with high amounts of arts education:

  • Score higher in science and writing classes
  • Are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities
  • Are more likely to enroll in a selective 4-year college
  • Have a higher GPA
  • Are five times less likely to drop out of high school
  • Are three times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree

General Learning

Due to its complexity and layers of different elements, music naturally stimulates various parts of the brain, more so than any other human activity.

Rhythm interacts with:

  • Left frontal cortex – Responsible for general language and verbal skills
  • Left parietal cortex – Responsible for spatial sense and navigation

Tonality stimulates:
Prefrontal cortex – Implicated in focusing attention, long-term and short-term decision making , and controlling intense emotions
Cerebellum – Controls coordination and motor skills
Temporal lobe – Processes auditory information, language, and verbal memory

Lyrics affect:

  • Broca’s area – The part of the brain linked to speech production
  • Wernicke’s area – The part of the brain linked to the understanding of spoken and written language

Putting that all together, you can see how music can improve general learning skills, beyond just grades and test scores. Music lessons have been shown to promote:

  • Language development – Studies show that musical training develops the part of the brain associated with processing language.
  • Cognitive abilities – Research indicates that musicians have a larger growth of neural activity than people not involved in music. This leads to improved fine motor skills and sound discrimination.
  • Reading – Studies show that music education contributes to improved reading skills, particularly in vocabulary and verbal sequencing.
  • Spatial-temporal skills – Understanding music helps students visualize the way various elements should go together, playing an important role in math, architecture, engineering, and working with computers.

The Power to Heal

People talk about music’s power to heal the soul, and while that may be up for debate, music has been shown to have some effects that are beneficial to your physiological functions.
Music can work wonders for those suffering from neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s. Listening to music engages the hippocampus, which, among other things, handles long-term memory storage. When you listen to a familiar song, you not only get memories associated with the song, but also any relevant feelings, which has played an expansive role in treating such memory disorders as Alzheimer’s. While an Alzheimer’s patient may have trouble remembering his identity from day to day, listening to the song he heard during his first kiss could bring up many of the emotions associated with that memory.

Music can also effectively treat Parkinson’s. When you listen to your favorite tunes, you’ll notice your foot tapping or your head bobbing on its own. The parts of your brain associated with movement and rhythms are so automated that moving with the beat requires almost no conscious attention. In other words, listening to or playing music can essentially trick your body into moving, even if you suffer from the locking muscles, spasms, and balance problems associated with Parkinson’s.

While your children may not suffer from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or other neurological disorders, everyone comes down with the common cold. While chicken soup and bed rest go a long way, music may be the best way to fight a fever. Music has been shown to raise immune markers, promoting the creation of more antibodies in your system, so listening to music or practicing your guitar may be just what the doctor ordered.

Music is just as effective in treating your emotional health as well. It can help you cope with stress by reducing cortisol—the chemical implicated in causing stress. Bluegrass, jazz, and soft rock are the most effective genres for reducing stress.

Music can also prevent depression. When you hear pleasurable music, your brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter often associated with motivation and the pleasure of receiving a reward. Music also distracts your brain by flooding your aural senses and forcing you to concentrate on something other than gloomy thoughts. It works in much the same way to decrease anxiety, allowing for an overall more positive mood.

Planning for the Future

Learning to sing or play a musical instrument can pave the way for a bright, fruitful future. Contrary to what you might think, majoring in music doesn’t limit your child to joining an orchestra or becoming a rock star. A few fantastic careers in music include:

  • Manager – Just because you’re not on stage doesn’t make your job any less important. As a manager, you take care of all the aspects that go into making a band successful, from scheduling gigs to giving your input on creative decisions.
  • Music teacher – From music theory to history to arrangement, spread your knowledge and love of music to others, from elementary school kids to college undergrads.
  • Sound designer – Create an extensive library of synthesized effects and sounds for artists, music equipment manufacturers, and production companies.
  • Producer – As the producer, you’re the creative leader of the studio, supervising everything that goes into the recording process, from overseeing the budget to actually printing the records.
  • Sound technician – You’re in charge of making the band sound amazing during live performances by supervising the placement of equipment and working the soundboard during the actual performance, ensuring that the bass, treble, mid, and everything in between are at perfect levels.

As you can see, learning music offers a comprehensive series of benefits, from good grades to a fulfilling future. If your kids are interested or curious about music lessons, now is as good a time as any to start, and with such a broad range of instruments, genres, and disciplines out there, your kids can play just about anything they want. Be supportive and kind, and maybe you’ll want to join in the fun yourself!

– “’Cello Beginner” by Steve Snodgrass is licensed under CC BY 2.0
– “guitar practice” by woodleywonderworks is licensed under CC BY 2.0