Music supercharges learning

How Music Supercharges Learning: 7 Benefits

When it comes to the place of music in education and wider society itself, I’m an essentialist.  Music is an indispensable part of our lives that gives us deeper meaning in everyday life and peace when we most need it. We shouldn’t need to defend it with extra-musical benefits.

I am also, however, a realist.  I understand that not everyone can see the blanketing aura of music in everyday life, or may just have other focusses.  I am, after all, biased on the subject. 

I get it.  The fast changing, digitally evolving, and complex problem solving of today (and the predicted future) have parents and teachers fearfully clasping at tangible outcomes.   Math, Science, Engineering, Technology, or STEM learning.  These have explicit outcomes for today’s technologically centric society. 

They don’t see the meta level of skills involved in the holistic development of a young human, whether specializing in atomic physics or pottery design.  There’s an array of cognitive processes happening in the background to make these tangible results possible.  These cognitive processes that can be so comprehensively developed and trained with musical learning. 

So, while I feel I shouldn’t have to defend the vital well-spring of music education, I find myself regularly donning my combat gear and heading for the front line.  Years of battle have given me an arsenal of benefits, brought to light by quality research, that I use to expound to any doubters what I already know to be true:  music transforms our minds into learning, creative, problem-solving machines. 

To make the task of convincing parents and other community members to sign-up their children for music programs easier, I’ve compiled this ‘White Paper’ on the benefits of Music Education.  Feel free to use in your school or learning community.

7 Ways Music Supercharges Learning

Of all the activities you could get your child involved with, music should be a non-negotiable.  In addition to the countless cognitive benefits, music improves social skills, motor skills, and is incredibly engaging and rewarding for a young learner. What’s more, so many of these benefits continue through adulthood and again become a fountain of cognitive improvement later in life. 

For many years there has been a lot of evidence that correlates music education with other, extra-musical benefits.  It’s not until relatively recently, however,  that technological advances have allowed researchers to accurately study these effects – and they are astounding.  It should come as no surprise that some of the most prolific scientists of the history are also accomplished musicians, and is often a prominent skill set of a polymath.

If you don’t already have your child enrolled in some form of music lesson, I hope the following has you signing up for lessons ASAP!  

Language development (and social development!)

The effect of music education on language development can be clearly seen in the brain. Music literally helps wire the brain.  Recent research has shown that musical training activates the same part of the left side of the brain that is mostly involved in processing language.  

Overtime, the relationship between musical development and language development is mutually beneficial.  Development of language then helps to reinforce parts of the brain that process music.  

Learning Music helps language development

For toddlers just learning to speak, learning music is a great advantage as it strengthens phonemic awareness.  Phonemic awareness is the ability to break down words or a stream of sounds into individual sounds.  This skill is a consistent determining factor in predicting later reading ability.  A study showed that kindergarten students who received just four months of music instruction made significantly greater gains in phonemic awareness than the control group.

One of the important things to remember here, is that language competence is also the basis of social competence, an incredibly important aspect of both childhood and adulthood.  Having experience in learning music therefore improves verbal communication and social interaction.

Math Skills

Research published in 2007 found that students who engage regularly in quality music programs test on average a massive 20% higher in standardized math tests than those who either didn’t have access to one, or the music program was of poor quality.  This was found to be the case regardless of socio-economic influences between different school districts.  

One of the biggest reasons for these results is the effects music has on spatial-temporal reasoning, which will be explored in later paragraphs.  But at a deeper level, the complex structures of music itself are fundamentally mathematical.  We need only investigate the elements of music and their mathematical basis to  gain an understanding of how deeply related they are.  

Learning music improves math skills

Musical scales (patterns of notes) and harmony (consonance and dissonance) are a result of mathematical proportions, numerical relations, integers and logarithms.  When decoding the concept of time and rhythm in music and its relationship with pitch to create melody, mathematical operations of division, multiplication, addition, and logarithms are used.  

Mathematical patterns are also used by composers to expand motifs and thread together an entire musical work.  Whether actively composing these or analyzing, these mathematical patterns of geometry and symmetry are being exercised.  

Increased IQ

In 2004, a nine-month study tested the IQ development of three different groups of six-year-old students.  The first took weekly piano and singing lessons, the second received no musical tuition, and the third received drama lessons but now music lessons, to test if any benefits were simply from arts education in general.  The group that took music lessons tested on average three IQ points higher than the other groups.  

Learning music increases IQ

Neural activity and growth

Playing music activities practically every area of the brain, and links them together in super fast neural connections.  This can be seen in two dramatic ways.  Playing an instrument of singing requires fine motor skills which are controlled across both hemispheres of the brain.  

Playing music also requires the combination of the mathematical and linguistic process of the left side of the brain with the novel and creative right side.  As a result the activity and volume of neural traffic through the brains right to left connect, the corpus callosum is greatly increased in people playing music.  This high volume leads to messages through this bridging part of the brain to move faster and through more diverse routes.  Researchers think that this could be what allows musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively.  

Learning music improves neural activity and growth

There’s a lot of well-backed research in neuroscience that shows children involved in musical training have larger neural growth than those who aren’t.  When playing an instrument you’re using much more of your brain.  It’s a perpetual feedback loop of reading the musical instructions or accessing memory, applying this to refined motor function, processing and evaluating the sound, thinking ahead to expectant sound output, and constantly adjusting each aspect.  All this taking place simultaneously, it’s no wonder more of the brain is being used.  

Executive Function

Executive function relates to the interlinked functions of strategising, planning, and attention to detail, but also the constant analysis between cognitive aspects and emotional aspects.  The ability to link these processes together and filter out distractions are the hallmarks of well-developed executive function.  

Learning music develops executive function

Musicians need to create and interpret the emotional content of music while taking into account its structural and technical information.  This intensive real-time processing and balancing of information strengthens Executive function from a very young age, giving young musicians an advantage when it comes to plan ahead and meet goals, display self control and manage multi-step tasks, and stay focussed.  

Spatial-Temporal Skills

Within executive function, the ability to follow multi-step tasks is of particular importance here, as these are related to Spatial-Temporal reasoning. These are the kind of skills required for complex tasks found in mathematics, architecture, engineering, computer coding, and any kind of STEM/STEAM project. 

It’s this skill set that allows humans to plan a relatively complex task out in their head without the need for trial and error.  Think about any brain-teasing strategy game you either play or have seen advertisements for: you need to save the king from a basement by stacking the right number of boxes, or arranging boats along a pier in a way that will allow the penguin to cross without being eaten by an orca.  

Learning music improves spatial-temporal skills

Leading on from the benefits to executive function, learning music trains these spatial-temporal skills.  Musicians need to look ahead to prepare the notes, fingering, breathing, and articulation, while constantly negotiating between projected audible outcomes and the actual musical results.  


The interconnectedness of musical brains also leads to better memory function.  Musicians are able to more efficiently create, store, and retrieve memories.  Researchers have found that musicians are particularly good at adding ‘tag’ to their memories.  

This ‘tagging’, or adding additional pieces of information to memories is actually a strategy used in a lot of memory improving programs; musical brains tend to do this already.  For example, with each memory the musical brain tags new memories with conceptual, emotional, audio, and contextual information, making it easier to store and retrieve.  

Learning music boosts memory

There are obviously many profound benefits to learning music as a child and even further into life.  Engaging consistently in learning music will help a child in all aspects of their development and give them a fun activity that they can be proud of. 

Understandably, the accessibility of music is not equal for all.  Individual music lessons can be expensive, instruments themselves can be expensive, and we are all pretty tight when it comes to spare time for practicing and lessons. 

With the amount of free resources online, like step by step tutorials available on YouTube, getting started could simply be a case of you leading the learning in parallel with your child.  In this way, learning becomes a quality activity to share.  What’s important is to get started, keep it consistent, and treat it as an activity to be valued, even cherished.

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