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Benefits of music

Musequality supports music projects because it changes young lives. Everyone knows that singing, making music and playing instruments is fun – but in fact music can play a much more significant role in children’s lives.

Research has found that music aids personal development, building confidence, self-esteem and discipline. It strengthens social skills, helping children to understand and interact with others and promoting skills such as empathy. It enhances intellectual development, improving maths and reading abilities and promoting abstract reasoning and spatial cognition. And participation in music helps steer young people away from damaging behaviour and lifestyles.


For more evidence on the benefits of bringing music into young lives,
click on the topic area that interests you.


Personal and social development


‘… active participation in a structured music curriculum does greatly improve the capacity of children up to five years old to develop essential skills. Specific skills cited in the study were language, creativity and communication, all of which can lead to youngsters having a great head-start before progression onto full-time education.’

Youth Music three-year research project ‘Turning their ears on’,
March 2006 (www.youthmusic.org.uk)


‘With music … students connect to each other better – greater camaraderie, fewer fights, less racism and reduced use of hurtful sarcasm.’
Eric Jensen, ‘Arts with the brain in mind’, published by
the Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, USA, 2001


‘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.’
Carl Hartman, Arts may improve students’ grades,
The Associated Press, October 1999 (from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)


‘Students who are rhythmically skilled also tend to better plan, sequence, and coordinate actions in their daily lives.’
Cassily Column, TCAMS Professional Resource Center, 2000
(from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)


‘Seventy-three per cent of respondents agree that teens who play an instrument are less likely to have discipline problems.’

‘Americans love making music – and value music education more highly than ever’,
American Music Conference, 2000
(from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)


A two-year Swiss study involving 1,200 children in 50 schools showed that students involved in the music programme were better at languages, learned to read more easily, showed an improved social climate, demonstrated more enjoyment in school, and had a lower stress level than non-music students.
EW Weber, M Spychiger and JL Patry, 1993
(from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)


‘Pattern recognition and mental representation scores improved significantly for students given piano instruction over a three-year period. Self-esteem and musical skills measures improved for the students given piano instruction.’
Dr Eugenia Costa-Giomi, ‘The McGill Piano Project:
Effects of three years of piano instruction on children’s cognitive abilities,
academic achievement, and self-esteem,’ presented at the meeting of the
Music Educators National Conference, Phoenix, Arizona in April 1998


Intellectual development


‘Music is beating computers at enhancing early childhood development. Music training, specifically piano instruction, is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children’s abstract reasoning skills necessary for learning math and science. Learning music at an early age causes long-term enhancement of spatial-temporal reasoning.’
Frances Rauscher PhD, Gordon Shaw PhD,
University of California, Irvine, 1997


‘Research shows that piano students are better equipped to comprehend mathematical and scientific concepts. A group of preschoolers received private piano keyboard lessons and singing lessons. A second group received private computer lessons. Those children who received piano/keyboard training performed 34 per cent higher on tests measuring spatial-temporal ability than the others, even those who received computer training. “Spatial-temporal” is basically proportional reasoning – ratios, fractions, proportions and thinking in space and time. This concept has long been considered a major obstacle in the teaching of elementary math and science.’
Neurological Research, 28 February 1997

‘Music training helps under-achievers. In Rhode Island, researchers studied eight public school first grade classes. Half of the classes became “test arts” groups, receiving ongoing music and visual arts training. In kindergarten, this group had lagged behind in scholastic performance. After seven months, the students were given a standardized test. The “test arts” group had caught up to their fellow students in reading and surpassed their classmates in math by 22 per cent. In the second year of the project, the arts students widened this margin even further. Students were also evaluated on attitude and behavior. Classroom teachers noted improvement in these areas also.’
Nature, 23 May 1996

‘Students who were exposed to the music-based lessons scored a full 100 percent higher on fractions tests than those who learned in the conventional manner. Second-grade and third-grade students were taught fractions in an untraditional manner by teaching them basic music rhythm notation. The group was taught about the relationships between eighth, quarter, half and whole notes. Their peers received traditional fraction instruction.’
Neurological Research, March 15, 1999

‘A ten-year study, tracking more than 25,000 students, shows that music-making improves test scores. Regardless of socioeconomic background, music-making students get higher marks in standardized tests than those who had no music involvement. The test scores studied were not only standardized tests, such as the SAT, but also in reading proficiency exams.’
Dr James Catterall, University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) 1997
(from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)


‘Students who can perform complex rhythms can also make faster and more precise corrections in many academic and physical situations.’
‘Rhythm seen as key to music’s evolutionary role in human intellectual development’,
Center for Timing, Coordination, and Motor Skills, 2000 (from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)


‘Music students out-perform non-music on achievement tests in reading and math. Skills such as reading, anticipating, memory, listening, forecasting, recall, and concentration are developed in musical performance, and these skills are valuable to students in math, reading, and science.’
B Friedman ‘An evaluation of the achievement in reading and arithmetic of pupils in elementary school instrumental music classes’, Dissertation Abstracts International (from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)

Research presented at the American Psychological Association’s 2003 Convention showed that music lessons offered children ‘intellectual benefits’ and could even ‘fine-tune their sensitivity to emotion in speech’. Six-year-old children in the study who took music lessons (either keyboard or voice) showed an additional 2.5 point increase in their IQ levels compared with other six-year-old children who were not involved in music. These children were also better able to identify a person’s emotion simply by tone of voice. One of the researchers hypothesized that ‘perhaps the same area of the brain processes both speech prosody and music’, and that ‘training in one domain would act to engage and refine those neural resources’.
J Chamberlin, ‘Are there hidden benefits to music lessons?’,
Monitor on Psychology Vol 34, No 9, American Psychological Association, October 2003


A 2001 report by The College Entrance Examination Board showed that music involvement increased students’ SAT scores. The report says that ‘students in music performance [courses] scored 57 points higher on the verbal and 41 points higher on the math, and students in music appreciation [courses] scored 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on the math, than students with no arts participation’.
College-Bound Seniors National Report: Profile of SAT Program Test Takers.
Princeton, New Jersey, The College Entrance Examination Board, 2001


According to the American Music Conference, ‘In 1999, at PS96 in East Harlem, only 13% of the students performed at grade level in reading or math. Eighteen months after the music program was restored, 71% of the students were performing at grade level. The principal, Victor Lopez, attributes this astounding success to the restoration of the music program.’
American Music Conference informational website

‘In a Scottish study, one group of elementary students received musical training, while another other group received an equal amount of discussion skills training. After six months, the students in the music group achieved a significant increase in reading test scores, while the reading test scores of the discussion skills group did not change.’
Sheila Douglas and Peter Willatts,
Journal of Research in Reading, 1994 (from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)


‘The Kettle Moraine school district in Wales, Wisconsin is requiring piano lessons for all K-5 pupils after seeing encouraging results from a district pilot program. District officials based their pilot program on research findings that show music training – specifically piano instruction – is far superior to computer instruction in enhancing children’s abstract reasoning skills.’
Karen Abercrombie, Education Week, 14 October 1998

‘In academic situations, students in music programs are less likely to draw unfounded conclusions.’
Champions of Change, Federal study, 1999
(from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)


Educational participation and achievement


‘Music majors are the most likely group of college grads to be admitted to medical school. Physician and biologist Lewis Thomas studied the undergraduate majors of medical school applicants. He found that 66 per cent of music majors who applied to med school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group. For comparison, 44 per cent of biochemistry majors were admitted. Also, a study of 7,500 university students revealed that music majors scored the highest reading scores among all majors including English, biology, chemistry and math.’
The comparative academic abilities of students in education and in other areas of a multi-focus university, Peter H Wood, ERIC Document No ED32748 ‘The Case for Music in the Schools’, Phi Delta Kappan, February 1994 (from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)

‘Data from the National Educational 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.’
National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 First Follow-Up (1990), US Department of Education

‘The world’s top academic countries place a high value on music education. Hungary, Netherlands and Japan stand atop worldwide science achievement and have strong commitment to music education. All three countries have required music training at the elementary and middle school levels, both instrumental and vocal, for several decades. The centrality of music education to learning in the top-ranked countries seems to contradict the United States’ focus on math, science, vocabulary, and technology.’
1988 International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IAEEA) Test

‘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.’
Carl Hartman, Arts may improve students’ grades, The Associated Press, October 1999 (from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)<

The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania School District analysed its 1997 dropout rate in terms of students’ musical experience. Students with no ensemble performance experience had a dropout rate of 7.4 per cent. Students with one to two years of ensemble experience had a dropout rate of one per cent, and those with three or more years of performance experience had a dropout rate of 0.0 per cent.
Eleanor Chute, ‘Music and art lessons do more than complement three R’s’, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 13 April 1998 (from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)

According to Americans for the Arts, the USA’s leading non-profit organisation for the arts, ‘students with high levels of arts involvement are less likely to drop out of school by grade 10.’ The organization also cites a Stanford University study conducted between 1987 and 1998, found that young people who participated in an arts programme, at least three hours on three days of each week throughout at least a year, were four times as likely to be recognised for academic achievement, three times as likely to be elected to their class office, four times as likely to participate in a math and science fair, and three times more likely to win an award for school attendance than their peers who did not participate in an arts program.
Americans for the Arts, August 2004

Crime and substance abuse


‘Students who participate in a school band or orchestra have the lowest levels of current and lifelong use of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs among any group in our society.’
H Con Res 266, United States Senate, 13 June 2000


‘Martin Gardiner of Brown University tracked the criminal records of Rhode Island residents from birth through age 30, and he concluded the more a resident was involved in music, the lower a person’s arrest record.’
MuSICA Research Notes, Winter 2000


‘Student involvement in extracurricular or co-curricular activities makes students resilient to current substance use among their peers, according to a recent statewide survey of Texas Schools. Secondary students who participated in band, orchestra or choir reported the lowest lifetime use of all substances.’
Texas School Survey of substance abuse among students: Grades 7-12, 1994


Role models


‘More music teachers are role models for minority students than teachers of any other subject. Thirty-six per cent of surveyed minority students identified music teachers as their role models, compared to 28 per cent for English teachers, 11 per cent for elementary teachers, and seven per cent for physical education teachers.’
‘Music teachers as role models for African-American students,
Journal of Research in Music Education’, 1993 (from the Children’s Music Workshop, USA)