The 2022 Community Youth Arts Festival was held at Greenville Town Common on Saturday, October 29. Original public domain image from Flickr

The Surprising Cognitive Benefits of Learning a New Musical Instrument for Children

In June 2023, a paper-reviewed article published in the journal, Education Studies, showed that children perform better at math when music is a major component of their lessons. The article was the product of over 50 years of research and its results were conclusive. When teachers use musical techniques such as clapping to pieces with different rhythms while learning numbers and fractions, their students feel more motivated. What’s more, around 73% of students who learn math this way have better academic results. Music, in many ways, is a powerful brain trainer. Like math, it involves the use of symbols, abstract thought, and quantitative reasoning. Best of all, this article is just one of many bodies of reviews and studies that show the surprising extent to which music can boost kids’ cognitive functioning.

Music and Reading Skills

One of the most important skills children learn at school is reading. There is a strong correlation, not just between reading and language-based and literacy subjects, but also between reading and math. This link is found in students from grade three and above, and it grows in strength at higher grade levels. If you want to help your child improve their reading skills, however, don’t just give them books, encourage them to learn a musical instrument! A study published in the journal Psychology of Music found that kids who receive music tuition involving training in increasingly complex tonal, rhythmic and practical skills, show superior cognitive performance in reading skills.

Music Can Help Promote Quality Sleep

In order to boost a child’s cognitive abilities, it is vital that they get a good night’s sleep. However, recent research has shown that almost 35% of kids do not sleep as much (or as well) as they should every night. This can hinder their ability to do well academically, and contribute to poor health. The factors that keep kids up at night are plentiful and include stress and anxiety. Having scary dreams can also preclude kids from sleeping, and many can run through a plethora of scenarios that only increase their likelihood of having chronic nightmares. Music can tackle this problem by helping to calm their stress. One study found that listening to soothing music helped improve sleep quality. Music additionally aids in brain development and helps kids understand their feelings, work out problems, and share experiences with their loved ones.

Music Builds Vital Brain Connections

Research published in 2016 by the Radiological Society of North America found that taking music lessons increased brain fiber connections in kids, and may be useful for tackling ADHD and autism. The study relied on an advanced brain image technique called “diffusion tensor imaging”—an advanced MRI technique that reveals microstructural changes in the brain’s white matter. The study showed improved brain connection in children with autism and ADHD who received musical instruction. This is because when they learn and play music, they use a wide array of skills—including cognition, social, emotional, motor, and hearing skills, which in turn activate vital brain areas. These skills “force” the brain, as it were, to build stronger connections.

Don’t Just Play It, Listen to It!

Perhaps all these studies have already inspired you to encourage your child to start taking piano, guitar, or violin lessons. Don’t forget to enjoy the wonders of music yourself, listening to music with your kids when you get the chance. Research out of the University of Arizona has shown that kids who grow up listening to music with their parents have better quality relationships with them when they reach adulthood. Just think of the music you loved listening to with your parents—perhaps it was Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, or The Beatles. Think of the memories you built and how everyone had their favorite album and song!

Music is as much about pure enjoyment as it is about improving your brain power. The above-mentioned studies have shown that learning music can help children shine in subjects and activities like math and reading. However, simply listening to soothing music at night can help them enjoy good sleep quality. What’s more, if you can all listen to your favorite tunes together, then all the better!