Does Music Make You Smarter?

Throughout history, in all cultures, music has provided the soundtrack to human life. Archaeological evidence of musical instruments such as bone flutes and drums predate agricultural tools!


Music researchers have found correlations between music making and some of the deepest workings of the human brain. Research has linked active music making with increased language discrimination and development, math ability, improved school grades, better-adjusted social behavior, and improvements in "spatial-temporal reasoning," - a cornerstone for problem solving.


To help grow a young child’s brain, music is essential. What can you do to incorporate music into the lives of your children?


With a newborn baby, we automatically know how to sing while rocking him to sleep. This natural instinct to surround a new infant with music and song is also a natural way to start building brain connections. Music affects all levels of development: social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth.


Music brings people together and helps them interact with one another.  The same thing happens with you and your children. Play music and watch the children respond. They will move in different ways, clap their hands, and tap their feet. Singing will make a difference in their brain development.


Music has the ability to comfort and soothe us. Children will often sing to themselves for comfort. You can use music to help calm your baby, or get your toddler to relax for naptime. If a child is tired or sad, singing a song or playing lively music can change their mood.


Music and movement go together. Children naturally respond to music by moving and being active. Music helps children learn about rhythm, timing, and coordination.


In addition to being fun, The "Hokey Pokey" dance, line dancing, square dancing and all group dances help children learn: their body parts (put your right foot in, raise your hands), sense of direction (turning around, going left and right, moving back and forth), or rhythm patterns (tapping to the beat).


Toddlers and preschoolers love rhymes and songs and they teach about numbers, letters, and sounds ("ABC song", "This Old Man"). As children's brains are developing at their fastest when they are very young, with 80 percent of brain development occurring by age 3, and 90 percent by age 5, music helps with making connections in the brain.

Music is linked to improved math, memory and reading skills. When children make up their own rhymes and songs, they are developing their language skills and building the connections in the brain.


Playing in a band or orchestra helps children with social and emotional development. Learning an instrument like the recorder or violin helps with hand-eye coordination.


There is no doubt that all music matters

Research conducted by psychologist Frances Rauscher of the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh and physicist Gordon Shaw of the University of California at Irvine specifically links the study of music to necessary brain development. They demonstrated that preschoolers who were given early exposure to complex multi-sensory stimulation -- in this case, musical key-board lessons and group choral singing -- scored higher on tests measuring spatial reasoning, a skill used later in math, science and engineering.


·    Research shows that piano students are better equipped to comprehend mathematical and scientific concepts. Neurological Research February 28, 1997


·    Young children with developed rhythm skills perform better academically in early school years. Findings of a recent study showed that there was a significant difference in the academic achievement levels of students classified according to rhythmic competency. Students who were achieving at academic expectation scored high on all rhythmic tasks, while many of those who scored lower on the rhythmic test achieved below academic expectation. Source: "The Relationship between Rhythmic Competency and Academic Performance in First Grade Children," University of Central Florida, Debby Mitchell


·    A ten-year study, tracking more than 25,000 students, shows that music-making improves test scores. Regardless of socioeconomic 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. Source: Dr. James Catterall, UCLA, 1997


·    Music training helps under-achievers. 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. Source: Nature, May 23, 1996


·   Music education can be a positive force on all aspects of a child's life, particularly on their academic success. The study of music by children has been linked to higher scores on the SAT and other learning aptitude tests, and has proven to be an invaluable tool in classrooms across the country. Given the impact music can have on our children's education, we should support every effort to bring music into their classrooms." Source: U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (NM)


In his book Keeping Mozart in Mind by Dr. Gordon Shaw, he presents the latest scientific findings on how music affects reasoning and learning.


Dr. Shaw was world-renowned for his leadership in the music and the brain studies and discoverer of the "Mozart effect.


In the first years of life, the brain is undergoing rapid physical development. Studies show participation in music can influence that process, with ramifications that last a lifetime.


A growing body of evidence suggests that when parents and/or teachers and caregivers engage young children in music activities on a regular basis, they are helping to hardwire the children's brains for successful lifelong learning.


Sing, dance, listen, and grow your brain all at the same time!

This post was contributed by Jackie Silberg, who has an M.S. in child development.  An early childhood advocate and popular keynote speaker, Jackie received the Distinguished Alumna Award from Emporia State University, recognizing her current achievements as well as her long and prolific career. Jackie founded and directed the Jewish Community Center School of Music in Kansas City, Missouri, and worked for Channel 41 television, planning the music and performing her original music for "41 Treehouse Lane," a children's program.  She wrote and produced a television show for Time Warner called "Just Kids," which addressed children's needs and interests. Jackie has worked as a consultant with the Discovery Channel, setting up their music streaming website. She has given workshops, keynote addresses, seminars, and family concerts throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany, and in Singapore. Jackie has served as an adjunct instructor at both Emporia State University and the University of Missouri at Kansas City and lectures at Johnson County Community College. Jackie is the owner of Miss Jackie Music Company.

Books by Jackie Silberg: Games to Play with Babies , Games to Play with Toddlers, Games to Play with Two Year Olds, Revised, Reading Games for Young Children, Brain Games for Babies, Brain Games for Toddlers & Twos