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  • How Musical Training Trains The Brain For Success

    website builders Studies show benefits of music education in cognitive development.


    You may be aware of some of the ways that the study of music translates to broader educational benefits. However, in recent years there has been extensive research with evidence-based studies that document increased learning abilities. In other words, there are conclusive results showing that music education benefits students when it comes to learning and achieving in other core academic subjects. And that translates to the skills needed for lifelong success!


    Improving Brainstem Response. Adults who receive formal music instruction as children have more robust brainstem responses to sound than peers who never participate in music lessons, and the magnitude of the response correlates with how recently training ceased. These results suggest that neural changes accompanying musical training during childhood are retained in adulthood (Skoe, E. & Kraus, N. 2012).


    Fostering Fine Motor Skills. The ability to use small, acute muscle movements to write, use a computer, and perform other physical activities essential for classroom learning are enhanced through music education. The parts of the brain associated with sensory and motor function are developed through music instruction, and musically trained children have better motor function than non-musically trained children (Forgeard, 2008; Hyde, 2009; Schlaug et al., 2005).


    Enhancing Working Memory. Working memory is the ability to mentally hold, control, and manipulate information in order to complete higher-order tasks, such as reasoning and problem solving. Musicians are found to have superior working memory compared to non-musicians. Musicians are better able to sustain mental control during memory and recall tasks, most likely as a result of their long-term musical training (Berti et al., 2006; Pallesen et al., 2010).


    Developing Better Thinking Skills. Thinking skills such as abstract reasoning are integral to students’ ability to apply knowledge and visualize solutions. Studies have shown that young children who take keyboard lessons have greater abstract reasoning abilities than their peers, and these abilities improve over time with sustained training in music (Rauscher, 2000).


    Enriching Recall and Retention. Musical training develops the region of the brain responsible for verbal memory—the recall and retention of spoken words—which serves as a foundation for retaining information in all academic subjects. Music students who were tested for 
verbal memory showed a superior recall for words as compared to non-music students (Ho et al., 1998; 2003).


    Advancing Math Achievement. Students who
 study music outperform their non-music peers in assessments of math, and the advantage that music provides increases over time. These findings hold true regardless of socio-economic status and race/ethnicity (Baker, 2011; Catterall, 1998). Additionally, students involved in instrumental music do better in algebra, a gateway for later achievement (Helmrich, 2010; U.S. National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008).


    Boosting English Language Arts (ELA) Skills. Students who study music surpass non-music students in assessments of writing, using information resources, reading and responding, and proofreading. Music education benefits show that gains in achievement of music students increase over time as compared to non-music students (Baker, 2011; Catterall, 1998).


    Raising Standardized Test Scores. Results from this elementary school study demonstrate that students in top-quality music programs scored 22% better in English and 20% better in mathematics than students in deficient music programs. Results from the middle school study show that students in top-quality instrumental programs scored 19% higher in English than students in schools without a music program and 32% higher in English than students in a deficient choral program (Johnson, Memmott, 2007).


    Increasing Average SAT Scores. The SAT is a standardized test designed to measure “readiness for college.” An analysis of 10 years of SAT data revealed that students who took four years of arts courses in high school earned the highest scores on both the verbal and math SAT, but overall, students taking any arts courses scored significantly higher than students who took no arts courses (Vaugh et al., 2000). Of these students, those who took music courses earned the highest math and second highest verbal SAT scores (College Board, 2010).


    Sharpening Student Attentiveness. The ability to 
pay attention—visual focus, active listening and staying on task—is essential to school performance. It begins to develop early in life and is continuously refined. Early childhood training in instrumental music improves these attention abilities, while continued music education throughout adolescence reinforces and strengthens them (Neville et al., 2008). Attentiveness is an essential building block of engagement, a competency necessary for success in school and the workforce.


    Prepare for college success in music and other performing arts as well as visual arts with specialized guidance. Former college deans of admissions are now ArtsBridge College Consultants.



    Baker R. A. (2011). The Relationship between Music and Visual Arts Formal Study and Academic Achievement on the Eighth-Grade Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) Test. (Doctoral dissertation, Louisiana State University, 2011).

    Berti, S., et al. (2006). Different Interference Effects in Musicians and a Control Group. Experimental Psychology, 53(2), 111-116.

    Catterall, J. S., et al. (1998). Involvement
in the Arts and Human Development: General Involvement and Intensive Involvement in Music and Theatre Arts. In E.B. Fiske (Ed.), Champions of Change (pp. 1-18). Washington, DC: the Arts Education Partnership & the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

    College Board. (2010). 2010 College- bound Seniors Total Group Profile Report. New York.

    Forgeard, M., et al. (2008). Practicing
a Musical Instrument in Childhood is Associated with Enhanced Verbal Ability and Nonverbal Reasoning. PLoS ONE 3(10): e3566.

    Helmrich, B. H. (2010). Window of Opportunity? Adolescence, Music, and Algebra. Journal of Adolescent Research, 25(4), 557-577.

    Ho, Y., et al. (1998, November 12). Music Training Improves Verbal Memory. Nature, 396, p 128.

    Ho, Y., et al. (2003). Music Training Improves Verbal but Not Visual Memory: Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Explorations in Children. Neuropsychology, 17(3), 439-450.

    Hyde, K. L., et al. (2009). Musical Training Shapes Structural Brain Development. The Journal of Neuroscience, 29(10), 3019-3025.

    Johnson, C., & Memmott J. (June 2007) Journal for Research in Music Education

    Neville, H., et al. (2008). Effects of
Music Training on Brain and Cognitive Development in Under-privileged 3- to 5-year-old Children: Preliminary Results. In C. Asbury & B. Rich (Eds.), Learning, Arts, and the Brain: The Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition (pp. 105-116). New York, NY: Dana Press.

    Pallesen, K. J., et al. (2010). Cognitive Control in Auditory Working Memory Is Enhanced in Musicians. PLoS ONE 5(6): e11120.

    Rauscher, F. H., & Zupan M. A. (2000). Classroom Keyboard Instruction Improves Kindergarten Children’s Spatial-Temporal Performance: A Field Experiment. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 15(2), 215-228.

    Schlaug, G., et al. (2005). Effects of Music Training on Children’s Brain and Cognitive Development. In S.D. Lipscomb, et al (Eds.), Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Music Perception & Cognition (pp. 133-134). Adelaide, Australia: Causal Productions.

    Skoe, E. & Kraus, N. (2012). A Little Goes a Long Way: How the Adult Brain Is Shaped by Musical Training in Childhood, Journal of Neuroscience, 32 (34) 11510. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1949-12.2012

    U.S. Department of Education. (2008).

    Vaugh, K., & Winner, E. (2000). SAT Scores of Students Who Study the Arts: What
 We Can and Cannot Conclude about
the Association. Journal of Aesthetic Education 34(3/4), 77-98.

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