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Does Learning a Musical Instrument Make Kids Smarter?

Updated on April 20, 2017

The October 14, 1993 edition of the journal Nature published a study that found listening to Mozart made college students smarter. This led to a Mozart craze that included the Baby Einstein DVD series and books like The Mozart Effect for Children: Awakening Your Child's Mind, Health, and Creativity with Music. Zell Miller, the Governor of Georgia at that time, wanted to provide classical music CDs to each child born in the state. Later studies found that the Mozart Effect wasn't real. While listening to Mozart may not make your child smarter, learning to play Mozart's music will.

A University of Toronto study found that piano lessons increase intelligence in children
A University of Toronto study found that piano lessons increase intelligence in children

Learning a Musical Instrument Raises IQ in Kids

Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto, did a study to determine if learning to play a musical instrument raises IQ. Schellenberg's study assigned children to keyboard lessons, voice lessons, drama lessons or no lessons. The children's IQs were measured before beginning lessons and afterwards.

Benefits of Music in Education

Previous studies have found that musical training promotes intellectual developments, such as literacy, verbal memory, spatial ability, reading ability, selective attention, and mathematics achievement. However, it was possible that more intelligent children were more likely to learn a musical instrument than other children. Another possible explanation was that children from more affluent backgrounds were more likely to receive musical training, which could explain the higher levels of intelligence.

Schellenberg wanted to determine if it was or wasn't musical training that accounted for these intellectual abilities in musically trained kids. His study determined that the IQ of musically trained children increased 3 points. By randomly assigning a large number of children to different groups, he was able to determine that it was the music lessons and not another factor that raised IQ. Schellenberg suggests that the following may account the increase in IQ:

"Music lessons involve long periods of focused attention, daily practice, reading musical notation, memorization of extended musical passages, learning about a variety of musical structures (e.g., intervals, scales, chords, chord progressions), and progressive mastery of technical (i.e., fine-motor) skills and the conventions governing the expression of emotions in performance." *

Faculty of 1000 Biology Reports Study

Research published in the online publication Faculty of 1000 Biology Reports playing an instrument changes the shape and power of the brain. The parts of the brain that control motor skills, hearing and memory are larger and more active when learns how to play an instrument and can improve day-to-day brain function.

Learning a musical instrument can make kids smarter
Learning a musical instrument can make kids smarter

According to this study, it can also increase IQ by 7 points in both children and adults. Evidence suggests that musicians have brains that are structurally and functionally different than those of nonmusicians. University of Zurich psychologist Lutz Jäncke said:

"For children especially we found that learning to play the piano for instance teaches them to be more self-disciplined, more attentive and better at planning. All of these things are very important for academic performance, so can therefore make a child brighter. Of course music isn't the only answer, but I do believe that it should be used in addition to other things."


* Research Report: Music Lessons Enhance IQ by E. Glenn Schellenberg of the University of Toronto at Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada


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    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California

      Thanks renee21.

    • renee21 profile image

      renee21 2 years ago

      I totally agree! Music greatly increases learning because it uses every facet of our brain. I am currently enrolled in a piano major at college. If I ever have kids in the future, they will all learn to play the piano. Great hub!

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 6 years ago from California

      They absolutely will. My child takes piano and I can easily see how they would provide an intellectual benefit.

    • thebookmom profile image

      thebookmom 6 years ago from Nebraska

      Thanks for your research. I'm so glad to know my hunch was correct. We just had our girl start piano lessons and she loves the teacher so she loves the lessons but I was hoping they would benefit her developing mind as well! Great hub.