Does Music Really Make You Smarter?

Newsletter from Ken Guilmartin - Founder/Director of Music Together® (Family newsletter July 2011)

I've heard that research has shown a connection between music training and excellence in math. Will enrolling in music class enhance my child's ability to do well in school? Does music really make you smarter?

I continue to be awed by music’s unique power to coordinate our minds, bodies, and spirits in a way that few other endeavors do. Music helps us express ourselves, it touches our hearts and brings us closer, and it can both energize and relax us. And, it involves so many of our human faculties: hearing, vision, voice, body, brain, and breath are all activated when we make music.

Because music is such an integrative experience, it makes sense that researchers have been drawn to study its broader effects. And, yes, study after study has suggested that music offers a spectrum of benefits beyond enjoyment and emotional connection or artistic achievement. There is evidence that students who study music in middle school and high school do better in math, English, history, and science. They also do better on standardized tests such as the SATs. Among college graduates, the rate of acceptance to medical schools is higher for music majors than for any other major.

Is this because music makes you smarter? Is there something magical about music, or do music students do so well simply because years of voice and instrument study help them develop the perseverance, self-discipline, and auditory and visual skills necessary to succeed in school? What about the effect of music on very young children, who have never engaged in formal study?

Among the research studies into music and young brains is an examination of the impact of the Music Together program on preschoolers in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Children who had Music Together as a component of their preschool experience showed statistically significant gains in their cognitive, language, and physical development. They also showed gains in social-emotional development (self-confidence, self-esteem) greater than preschoolers in classrooms that did not participate in Music Together. These studies help validate my long-held belief that developmentally-appropriate music experiences have a tremendous ability, especially early in life, to support the developing child in all his growing capacities.

This is what we mean at Music Together when we say, Music Learning Supports All Learning™. I think it’s important for parents to know this and important to lobby for music to be an essential part of the core curriculum from preschool through high school. However, I’d hate to see the day when music is valued mainly as an academic support! I believe it should be recognized as whole-life support.

For nearly twenty-five years I’ve watched children blossom musically, socially, and emotionally in the rich, nurturing environment of Music Together classes. I’ve watched parents and caregivers as they discover a new and satisfying way of relating to their children. I’ve seen the strong bonds that can be created in families, in schools, and in communities through the mutual enjoyment of musical play. And, beyond all that, I know that music-making is a uniquely human capacity with profound value all its own.

—Kenneth K. Guilmartin is the Founder/Director of Music Together LLC and the coauthor of Music Together.



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