The opportunity to learn to play music is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. Even if your child has no desire to become a professional musician, learning music gives them self-confidence and a lifetime of satisfaction.
There’s another, also extremely important benefit of having your child learn to play music. Musical education during childhood can positively impact cognitive development, improve social skills, and increase academic success for all levels of school. Music education has even been able to help underachievers! A study published in Nature showed that students lagging behind in scholastic performance caught up to their fellow students in reading and surpassed their classmates in math by 22% after only seven months of musical instruction.
Researchers at the Arts Education Partnership have compiled study results demonstrating a host of ways that music training prepares a child’s mind for success in school. Among the many mental abilities that improve through learning an instrument are:
Forty years ago, “working memory” was a tricky concept that few people understood. Thanks to the constant presence of computers today, the idea of working memory is easy to grasp—it is basically the number of things a computer can work on at once. Receiving musical training is like getting a “memory upgrade” for the brain. A musician in an orchestra must concentrate on the fine motor skills required to play their instrument, recall any guidance the conductor has provided about the mood of the piece, remember how to decode all the symbols on the sheet music page, and be continuously alert for cues—simultaneously! That is seriously high-powered parallel processing, and developing it pays huge dividends in school.
Abstract Thinking Skills
For many children, learning to play an instrument is their first experience with abstract thinking. It is easy to learn that drinking water relieves your thirst. It is more complicated to learn that putting your fingers in a specific position while performing a specific action with your breath or with a bow produces the note G—the connection between the action and the outcome is far from obvious. Comprehending this kind of indirect connection is the essence of abstract thinking, and the value of such thinking skills, especially in math and science, it is enormous.
So much has been written about the ever-shortening attention spans of both kids and adults that it seems like there must be no one left who can pay attention long enough to read stores, let alone textbooks. Music provides exceptional training in sustained concentration! In fact, if you had access to an fMRI machine you can literally see the parts of the brain responsible for attentiveness light up, as scientists at Stanford Medical did. Whether your child is practicing an exercise using sheet music, performing a recital piece from memory, or playing chords on a guitar while singing a folk song, there is no space for a lapse in attention. As a result, children who study music develop the ability to focus on a task more keenly, more deeply, and for a longer period of time than non-musicians.
One of the most difficult life lessons to learn is the difference between what is possible right now and what will become possible over time through dedicated effort. For a young musician, understanding that distinction becomes second nature almost from the very first moment they come in contact with an instrument. After all, even the most naturally gifted musicians on Earth have at some point made a mess of a piece before ultimately mastering it.
No musician, young or old, can just decide to be great tomorrow. Although, all musicians can be better tomorrow if they put in the work today. The chance to discover the boundless rewards of persistence may well be the most important reason that students who study music do better in school than non-musicians.
As young musicians advance through levels of skill, they learn the valuable companion lesson that criticism is not something to be feared and most certainly not a reason to feel shame. They learn that a correction from a teacher is an expression of faith in their ability to do better. It is a great feeling to send children off to school knowing that the inevitable criticisms their work will receive will inspire rather than dishearten them.
America Knows Music Matters in School
Over 71% of Americans believe that music education fosters the development of skills, such as creativity and leadership, that are vital to success in a wide variety of fields. A whopping 80% say that musical training contributes to lifelong personal fulfillment. Possibly more than any other pursuit, music gives your child the keys to the halls of knowledge and the foundation for a rewarding career. No matter your child’s age, the value of music lessons in promoting academic achievement and overall well-being is like music itself, truly beyond words.
For more about this topic including ideas on how to introduce babies and young children to music, read our blog The Benefits of Music Education in Childhood Development.