The Case for Investing in Music Education

Connexeo - 07/24/2018

“When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain.”

Eric Rasmussen, chair of the early childhood music department at John Hopkins University’s Peabody Preparatory, made the statement in a study quoted by Learning Liftoff. He was explaining that research shows children involved with music have larger growth of neural activity than those who aren’t.

That’s just one of the many reasons music education is beneficial to students and helps schools fulfill their mission of giving students the foundation they need to reach their full potential. Though music – and the arts in general – are among the first programs cut in times of budget shortfalls, research shows that might not be what’s best for the children.

Schools with music programs are estimated to have a 90.2% graduation rate and 93.9% attendance rate, according to, although socioeconomic and other circumstances also may be factors. Schools that don’t offer music education graduate students at a 72.9% clip and achieve 84.9% attendance.

The benefits are discovered even earlier in a child’s education. One study of third-grade boys found that the non-verbal IQ for those who played an instrument was about 6 points higher than those who didn’t – and about 5 points higher than those who didn’t play an instrument but who had a parent that did. The study also found that the musicians made 40% fewer spelling errors than the non-musicians.

What happens is, while a child is tooting away on the recorder or learning the difference between the black and white keys on the piano, the brain and the body are making connections they might not make until later in life.

“Learning to play an instrument requires coordination between hands and with visual or auditory stimuli,” said Concordia University psychology professor Virginia Penhune, who co-authored a study on music training and brain development. “Practicing an instrument before age 7 likely boosts the normal maturation of connections between motor and sensory regions of the brain, creating a framework upon which ongoing training can build.”

It’s no secret that music and mathematics are tied together, and that’s especially true when it comes to rhythm. (Which means Meghan Trainor was right: It is All About the Bass.) An article in Getting Smart states that music is ordered by rhythm and pitch, with mathematical sequences mapping out different modes.

“Where a child has learned about tonality through music lessons, he has already been exposed to mathematical sequences, and when presented with similar ordering challenges in math class, should find that it is not an entirely new concept,” the article states. “Similarly, when a music pupil has spent time learning about rhythm, he has learned to count.”

The benefits show in the test scores. A 2007 study found that students in top-quality instrumental programs scored 19% higher in English and 17% higher in math that children in schools without a music program. Music students also happen to have larger vocabularies and more advanced reading skills, according to a 2014 paper.

Finally, studying music could make a student more employable upon entering the workforce. The Arts Education Partnership found that employers believe creativity is an important skill and that “graduates from music programs report that creativity, teamwork, communication and critical thinking are skills necessary in their work.”

From speeding up neural development, to sharpening math skills, to making students more employable, music education is worth the investment.

And, yes. We know Meghan Trainor wasn’t talking about music when she sang about “the Bass.”

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