Research Evidence

Marianna and Constantine Spentzos
Marianna and Constantine Spentzos

“Every student in the nation should have an education in the arts.” This is the opening statement of The Value and Quality of Arts Education: A Statement of Principles, a document from the nation’s ten most important educational organizations, including the American Association of School Administrators, the National Education Association, the National Parent Teacher Association, and the National School Boards Association.

The benefits conveyed by music education can be grouped in four categories:

1. Success in society

katelyn McKissick
Katelyn McKissick

Perhaps the basic reason that every child must have an education in music is that music is a part of the fabric of our society. The importance of music to our economy is without doubt. And the value of music in shaping individual abilities and character are attested in a number of places:

  • Secondary students who participated in band or orchestra reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances (alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs). X Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Report. Reported in Houston Chronicle, January 1998.
  • Scientific evidence proves that an education in the arts makes better math and science students, enhances spatial intelligence in newborns, and let’s not forget that the arts are a compelling solution to teen violence, certainly not the cause of it! XMichael Greene, Recording Academy President and CEO at the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards, February 2000.
  • The U.S. Department of Education lists the arts as subjects that college-bound middle and junior high school students should take, stating “Many colleges view participation in the arts and music as a valuable experience that broadens students understanding and appreciation of the world around them. It is also well known and widely recognized that the arts contribute significantly to children’s intellectual development.” In addition, one year of Visual and Performing Arts is recommended for college-bound high school students. XGetting Ready for College Early: A Handbook for Parents of Students in the Middle and Junior High School Years, U.S. Department of Education, 1997.
  • The very best engineers and technical designers in the Silicon Valley industry are, nearly without exception, practicing musicians. XGrant Venerable, “The Paradox of the Silicon Savior,” as reported in “The Case for Sequential Music Education in the Core Curriculum of the Public Schools,” The Center for the Arts in the Basic Curriculum, New York , 1989.

2. Success in school

Josiah Wong
Josiah Wong

Skills learned through the discipline of music transfer to study skills, communication skills, and cognitive skills useful in every part of the curriculum. The discipline of music study – particularly through participation in ensembles – helps students learn to work effectively in the school environment without resorting to violent or inappropriate behavior. And there are a number of hard facts that we can report about the ways that music study is correlated with success in school:

  • A study of 237 second grade children used piano keyboard training and newly designed math software to demonstrate improvement in math skills. The group scored 27% higher on proportional math and fractions tests than children that used only the math software. XGraziano, Amy, Matthew Peterson, and Gordon Shaw, “Enhanced learning of proportional math through music training and spatial-temporal training.” Neurological Research 21 (March 1999).
  • In an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data on more than 25,000 secondary school students (NELS:88, National Education Longitudinal Survey), researchers found that students who report consistent high levels of involvement in instrumental music over the middle and high school years show significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12. This observation holds regardless of students socio-economic status, and differences in those who are involved with instrumental music vs. those who are not is more significant over time. XCatterall, James S., Richard Chapleau, and John Iwanaga. Involvement in the Arts and Human Development: General Involvement and Intensive Involvement in Music and Theater Arts. Los Angeles , CA : The Imagination Project at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, 1999.
  • Students with coursework/experience in music performance and music appreciation scored higher on the SAT: students in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal and 41 points higher on the math, and students in music appreciation scored 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on the math, than did students with no arts participation. XCollege-Bound Seniors National Report: Profile of SAT Program Test Takers. Princeton , NJ : The College Entrance Examination Board, 2001.
  • According to statistics compiled by the National Data Resource Center, students who can be classified as disruptive (based on factors such as frequent skipping of classes, times in trouble, in-school suspensions, disciplinary reasons given, arrests, and drop-outs) total 12.14 percent of the total school population. In contrast, only 8.08 percent of students involved in music classes meet the same criteria as disruptive. XBased on data from the NELS:88 (National Education Longitudinal Study), second follow-up, 1992.
  • Data from the National Education 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. XNELS:88 First Follow-up, 1990, National Center for Education Statistics, Washington DC .
  • Physician and biologist Lewis Thomas studied the undergraduate majors of medical school applicants. He found that 66% of music majors who applied to medical school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group. 44% of biochemistry majors were admitted. XAs reported in “The Case for Music in the Schools,” Phi Delta Kappan, February 1994.

3. Success in developing intelligence

Lizzy Stietzle
Lizzy Stietzle

Music education makes kids smarter. Research show how music study can actively contribute to brain development:

  • In a study conducted by Dr. Timo Krings, pianists and non-musicians of the same age and sex were required to perform complex sequences of finger movements. Their brains were scanned using a technique called functional magnetic resource imaging (fMRI) which detects the activity levels of brain cells. The non-musicians were able to make the movements as correctly as the pianists, but less activity was detected in the pianists’ brains. Thus, compared to non-musicians, the brains of pianists are more efficient at making skilled movements. These findings show that musical training can enhance brain function. XWeinberger, Norm. The Impact of Arts on Learning. MuSICa Research Notes 7, no. 2 (Spring 2000). Reporting on Krings, Timo et al. Cortical Activation Patterns during Complex Motor Tasks in Piano Players and Control Subjects. A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study. Neuroscience Letters 278, no. 3 (2000): 189-93.
  • The musician is constantly adjusting decisions on tempo, tone, style, rhythm, phrasing, and feeling–training the brain to become incredibly good at organizing and conducting numerous activities at once. Dedicated practice of this orchestration can have a great payoff for lifelong attentional skills, intelligence, and an ability for self-knowledge and expression. XRatey John J., MD. A User’s Guide to the Brain. New York : Pantheon Books, 2001.
  • Researchers at the University of Montreal used various brain imaging techniques to investigate brain activity during musical tasks and found that sight-reading musical scores and playing music both activate regions in all four of the cortex’s lobes; and that parts of the cerebellum are also activated during those tasks. XSergent, J., Zuck, E., Tenial, S., and MacDonall, B. (1992). Distributed neural network underlying musical sight reading and keyboard performance. Science, 257, 106-109.
  • Aubrey at lesson
    Aubrey at lesson

    A University of California ( Irvine ) study showed that after eight months of keyboard lessons, preschoolers showed a 46% boost in their spatial reasoning IQ. XRauscher, Shaw, Levine , Ky and Wright, “Music and Spatial Task Performance: A Causal Relationship,” University of California , Irvine , 1994.

  • Researchers found that children given piano lessons significantly improved in their spatial- temporal IQ scores (important for some types of mathematical reasoning) compared to children who received computer lessons, casual singing, or no lessons. XRauscher, F.H., Shaw, G.L., Levine, L.J., Wright, E.L., Dennis, W.R., and Newcomb, R. (1997) Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children’s spatial temporal reasoning. Neurological Research, 19, 1-8.
  • A McGill University study found that pattern recognition and mental representation scores improved significantly for students given piano instruction over a three-year period. They also found that self-esteem and musical skills measures improved for the students given piano instruction. XCosta-Giomi, E. (1998, April). The McGill Piano Project: Effects of three years of piano instruction on children’s cognitive abilities, academic achievement, and self-esteem. Paper presented at the meeting of the Music Educators National Conference, Phoenix, AZ.

3. Success in Life

Summer Recital, 2008
Summer Recital, 2008

Participation in music brings countless benefits to each individual throughout life. The benefits may be psychological or spiritual, and they may be physical as well:

  • Studying music encourages self-discipline and diligence, traits that carry over into intellectual pursuits and that lead to effective study and work habits. An association of music and math has, in fact, long been noted. Creating and performing music promotes self-expression and provides self-gratification while giving pleasure to others. In medicine, increasing published reports demonstrate that music has a healing effect on patients. For all these reasons, it deserves strong support in our educational system, along with the other arts, the sciences, and athletics. XMichael E. DeBakey, M.D., Leading Heart Surgeon, Baylor College of Music.
  • Music has a great power for bringing people together. With so many forces in this world acting to drive wedges between people, it’s important to preserve those things that help us experience our common humanity. XTed Turner, Turner Broadcasting System.
  • Music making makes the elderly healthier…. There were significant decreases in anxiety, depression, and loneliness following keyboard lessons. These are factors that are critical in coping with stress, stimulating the immune system, and in improved health. Results also show significant increases in human growth hormones following the same group keyboard lessons. (Human growth hormone is implicated in aches and pains.) XDr. Frederick Tims, reported in AMC Music News, June 2, 1999.
  • Music is about communication, creativity, and cooperation, and, by studying music in school, students have the opportunity to build on these skills, enrich their lives, and experience the world from a new perspective. XBill Clinton, former President, United States of America.

(Source: MENC – The National Association for Music Education “Music Education Facts and Figures 2002”)


Sofia Stacchiola, age 5
Sofia Stacchiola, age 5

Advantages of Learning Music

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