The idea that studying music improves the social development of a child is not a new one, but at last there is incontrovertible evidence from a study conducted out of the University of Toronto.
The study, published in the August issue of Psychological Science was led by Dr. E. Glenn Schellenberg, and examined the effect of extra-curricular activities on the intellectual and social development of six-year-old children. A group of 144 children were recruited through an ad in a local newspaper and assigned randomly to one of four activities: piano lessons, voice lessons, drama lessons, or no lessons.
Two types of music lessons were offered in order to be able to generalize the results, while the groups receiving drama lessons or no lessons were considered control groups in order to test the effect of music lessons over other art lessons requiring similar skill sets and nothing at all. The activities were provided for one year.
The participating children were given IQ tests before and after the lessons. The results of this study revealed that increases in IQ from pre- to post-test were larger in the music groups than in the two others. Generally these increases occurred across IQ subtests, index scores, and academic achievement.
While music teachers across the country greeted the new research enthusiastically, in fact, many other studies have previously shown a correlation between music study and academic achievement.
In 1997, well known music researchers Frances Rauscher, Gordon Shaw and their team at the University of California (Irvine) reported that music training is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children's abstract reasoning skills, the skills necessary for learning math and science. A group led by the same two scientists had earlier showed that after eight months of piano lessons, preschoolers showed a 46 percent boost in their spatial reasoning IQ.
The March 1999 issue of Neurological Research published a report by another group of researchers, also at the University of California (Irvine), who found that second-grade students given four months of piano keyboard training, as well as time playing newly designed computer software, scored 27% higher on proportional math and fractions tests than other children.
Students with coursework and experience in music performance and music appreciation scored higher on the SAT, according to a Profile of Program Test Takers released by the Princeton, NJ, College Entrance Examination Board in 2001. This report stated that 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.
Another part of this same study shows that longer music study means higher SAT scores. For example, students participating in the arts for two years averaged 29 points higher on the verbal portion and 18 points higher on the math portion of the SAT than students with no coursework or experience in the arts. Students with four or more years in the arts scored 57 points higher and 39 points higher on the verbal and math portions respectively than students with no arts coursework.
Another study also found support for a relationship between math achievement and participation in instrumental music instruction. The researchers found that students who participated in instrumental music instruction in high school took on the average 2.9 more advanced math courses then did students who did not participate.
In fact, various studies over the last 10 years suggest teaching kids music can heighten their aptitude for math, reading, and engineering. (One explanation for improved ability in mathematics is that music theory is based on mathematical truths. Rhythms are divided into fractions - half notes, quarter notes and eighth notes. Scales have eight tones, and the steps between them follow an equation.)
A McGill University study in 1998 found that pattern recognition and mental representation scores improved significantly for students given piano instruction over a three-year period. The researchers also found that self-esteem and musical skills measures improved for the students given piano instruction.
And data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 revealed 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.
In 1994, a report entitled "The Case For Music Study In Schools" was printed in Phi Delta Kappan, the professional print journal for education. It included details of research conducted by physician and biologist Lewis Thomas, who studied the undergraduate majors of medical school applicants. Thomas found that 66 percent of music majors who applied to medical school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group.
The same report asserted that the very best engineers and technical designers in the Silicon Valley industry were, almost without exception, practicing musicians.
The world's top academic countries also place a high value on music education. In a study of the ability of fourteen year-old science students in seventeen countries, the top three countries were Hungary, the Netherlands, and Japan. All three include music throughout the curriculum from kindergarten through high school.
St. Augustine Bronx elementary school, about to fail in 1984, implemented an intensive music program, and today 90 percent of the school's students are reading at or above grade level. And a ten-year study at UCLA tracked more than 25,000 students, and showed that music making improves test scores. Regardless of socio-economic 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.
Music training helps under-achievers as well, according to research published in Nature magazine in May 1996. 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 percent. 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.
In 2005, it appears the pace of scientific research into music making has never been greater. The most recent evidence from the University of Toronto confirms what many other researchers have already detected - that music boosts brainpower, academic achievement,socialization skills, and emotional health.
It's logical, when you think about it. People who learn to play an instruments are in groups -- bands, choirs, orchestras, combos, worship teams, etc. And working and making music with others is bound to help relateabilty with people and foster close bonds with fellow musicians.
So it appears that learning to play music, whether guitar, piano, or some other instrument, actually does contribute to your ability to "win friends and influence people."
Duane Shinn is the author of over 500 music books and products such as DVD's, CD's, musical games for kids, chord charts, musical software, and piano lesson instructional courses for adults. He holds an advanced degree from Southern Oregon University and was the founder of Piano University in Southern Oregon. He can be reached at pianolessonsbyvideo.com He is the author of the popular free 101-week e-mail newsletter titled "Amazing Secrets Of Piano Chords & Sizzling Chord Progressions" with over 55,000 current subscribers. Those interested may obtain a free two-year subscription by going to playpiano.com/