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Can Music Make a Child Smarter? Well, It Might Help Her Ace Math and English
  • Can music make you smarter? It’s a question that has inspired several studies with mixed and controversial results, but a recent study provides strong evidence that enrolling a child in music lessons can give him an edge in subjects like Math and English.

    The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, found that elementary school students who studied a musical instrument for at least 18 months not only did better on tests of memory, planning, reasoning, focus, and self-control, but they also outperformed nonmusical peers on math, language, and IQ tests.

    “Learning an instrument provides a full brain workout, stimulating growth and building connections in various regions throughout the brain,” says lead author Artur Jaschke, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Amsterdam, in an interview with WebMD. “Our study provides some of the strongest evidence yet that the cognitive skills developed during music lessons can influence children’s abilities in completely unrelated subjects, too.”

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    Researchers pooled 150 children, ages 5 to 10, and divided them into four groups. Some groups had structured music lessons which included learning an instrument in school or at home, another group had visual arts classes, and some groups had no lessons in music and arts.

    Researchers tracked the students for two and a half years, giving them a battery of tests every six months. After one year, there was little difference between the four groups.

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    But after 18 months, the music groups started to get higher marks than the other students in cognitive tasks like planning, memory, and problem-solving. Then, two and a half years later, the differences became more obvious. Those in the music groups scored 14 to 18 percent higher on math and language tests, and about 15 points higher on IQ tests compared to the group that did not have lessons in the arts.


    The study’s researchers hope that their findings will help validate the importance and value of music education.

    “To play an instrument, you need to plan, have motor control, remember, exercise patience, and understand the emotions behind the music,” says Jaschke. “In passively training all those brain areas, which can be really enjoyable, you build connections that can improve performance in many areas of life.

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    How to use music to boost brain power

    There is a popular notion that classical music can make babies smarter. While several studies have sought to debunk this theory, research has shown a link between music and the stimulation of the neurons in an unborn baby’s brain. A study in 1999 by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that music had a small effect on spatial reasoning skills, which is most probably an effect of intermittent, small, positive ‘enjoyment arousal’ effect, according to Quartz.

    Another study found that 10 minutes of Mozart’s “String Quintet in D Major,” improved the ability to predict paper shapes. Listening to pop music can be even more effective.

    If you are intent in introducing music to your children while they are young, Jaschke has a few pieces of advice.

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    Start ‘em young

    A recent study found that nine-month-old babies who were taught to tap out rhythms in time with music had noticeable improvements in brain regions linked with detecting patterns and processing language.

    Enroll them in instrument lessons

    Playing an instrument has its own benefits and it produces more cognitive rewards. The period between ages five to 12, when the brain is rapidly changing, “can have the most impact,” according to WebMD.

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    Let him choose what instrument to play.

    Most parents who enroll their kids in music lessons have already chosen what kinds of instruments they want their kids to play. But kids need to make that important choice, too! “Whether they play violin, piano, guitar, or choose classical, jazz, or punk, the benefits are similar,” says Jaschke.

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