Research on Benefits of Music Lessons for Kids

This post collects some of the research on the benefits of music lessons for kids, looking not so much at how their musical skills increased, which would be expected, but also on what other un-related skills appear to benefit from music instruction.

Rhythm

The ability to keep a steady beat is not innate to humans. We have to learn it. And many of our children are not learning it. Although ideally children would learn it by age 3, or by 7 at the latest, less than 50% of kids in grade 4 to 6 can walk to the steady beat of music.  (Source) Thus, it’s important to teach rhythm.

Kids who have the ability to keep a steady beat also have better physical coordination, pay attention for longer periods of time, do better in kindergarten, and do better on achievement tests. Kids who participated in music and dance classes had a better ability to keep a beat. (Source)

Kids who can keep a steady beat (rhythm) are better readers and more successful in math. They are better behaved in class, and have less aggressive contact with other kids. Steady beat seems to contribute to kids’ ability to concentrate, understand space and distance, and control their actions. (Weikert 2003 as summarized here.)

Connection between rhythm and movement. Kids must experience rhythm with their bodies (e.g. by drumming or by tapping rhythm sticks) before they can hear rhythm in their heads. Many school age children can’t walk to the beat of music or describe how their bodies are moving. (Source)

Singing

Music is a way to learn an inner voice… for example, if you sing B-I-N-G-O, then on the next verse,  you do [wait] I-N-G-O, a child “says” the B inside of their head to hold the timing correct. Or, if you do Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, and then hum your way through it, they have to “hear” the words in their head to remember what body part to do next. This will later help them remember things like if a teacher says directions for what to do, they can repeat them inside their own head to remember what to do. (Source)

Using the singing voice – If the environment supports vocal development (e.g. if parents sing to and sing with children), then most children could enter kindergarten knowing how their singing voices are different than their speaking voices. But, about half of kindergarten age kids can’t do this. (Source)

Children who took keyboard or voice lessons had greater increase in IQ than those who took drama lessons or no lessons. Unlike other research, this showed more IQ benefits from singing lessons than from keyboard. (Source and Source)

Learning to Play an Instrument

Children who studied a musical instrument for at least three years scored higher in things related to instrumental music, such as auditory discrimination and finger dexterity, but also in unrelated skills like verbal ability and visual pattern completion. (Source)

Musically trained kids have improved musical skills (melody, harmony and rhythm processing) but also have improved memory (tested by repeating back a series of numbers spoken by the researcher.) Memory is correlated with literacy, verbal memory and IQ. (Source)

Children learn more when they participate in music (e.g. play instruments in class) than when they listen to music (e.g. in a music appreciation class.) Two years of music training improve the brains’ ability to distinguish similar sounding syllables, which is important for reading. (Source)

Music instruction speeds up the development of the brain’s auditory pathway, and increases its efficiency. Children with musical training are more accurate at processing sound. (Source)

The brains of older adults (age 55-76) who had music training as a child but haven’t played an instrument in decades respond more quickly to speech than older adults who never played an instrument. (Source)

Children who had instrumental music training for 3 or more years did better on outcomes related to music (auditory discrimination and fine motor skills) and on un-related skills (vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills).

Motor skills – kids who’ve had piano lessons have better motor proficiency (Costa-Giomi), and are better at tapping keys in rhythm. (Hurwitz et al and Jancke et al) (Source)

Music and math. Music is mathematical and organized. If you play a concert A on a violin, it vibrates at 44o Hz / second. The A one octave up is 880 Hz. The A one octave down is 200 Hz. A half note takes half as long as a whole note, a quarter note takes a quarter of the time. When you read music and play the piano, a middle C on the notation is always the same key on the piano and always makes the same sound – the note you see on the page correlates to what you touch on the keyboard and what you hear. This multi-sensory connection helps to build the brain. (Source)

Music and verbal skills: Music perception skills correlated with both phonological awareness (hearing and using parts of oral language, like syllables) and early reading skills. (Source)

Music and literacy: Both music notation and written English involve formal notations that always represent the same thing, they read from left to right, and there are clues about timing (note length and rests in music, commas and periods in writing.) (Source)

Young adults with music training have better memory recall for spoken words, sung lyrics, and random words that were spoken to them. (Source) (Source)

A meta-analysis of studies (Butzlaff) found a significant association between music training and reading skills. (Source)

For children with dyslexia, phonological awareness improved with singing and rhythm games. Musically trained children did better on a verbal memory test. Musically trained children have higher IQ scores. (Source)

Increased duration of music lessons correlated with higher IQ in childhood and better academic ability in young adulthood. The benefits are small, but general and long lasting. (Source)

Children who had taken instrumental lessons scored higher in verbal ability (vocabulary) and non-verbal reasoning.  (Source)
Learn more about the benefits of music for kids here, find activities for teaching rhythm here, find lyrics and hand motions for lots of songs that toddlers and preschoolers love here, and check out resources for finding more great kids’ songs here.
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6 comments

  1. It’s interesting how you point out that kids who learn to keep a steady beat by playing music are usually better readers and more successful with math. My kids are getting to the age where they want to be involved in extracurricular activities, and my husband and I want to decide which ones will be best for them. Having something get involved in something that would benefit them later in life like this sounds like a great idea!

    Like

  2. I have a son who is just entering high school. During this rather anxiety inducing time, I have found that when stressed, he tends to sit down at the piano. 15 or 30 minutes later, he steps away in a much more relaxed and focused mental state.

    Like

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