Music & Developing Intelligence

Many new parents will hear that they should expose their children to music in some capacity. It is commonly believed that music makes your child intelligent. In recent years, psychologists, neuroscientists, linguists, and other researchers have taken this claim seriously and have devoted hours of study to it. Their findings back up this claim in many ways. While music might not magically make your child a genus, it does develop parts of the brain that lead to greater academic success. The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) have both collected such findings in an effort to spread awareness of the necessity of music education. Here are some of their findings:


  • 144 six-year-olds were split into three groups: one that received nine months of weekly piano and voice lessons, one with nine months of weekly drama lessons, and one with no lessons at all. All children took an IQ test before and after those lessons. Those who took voice and piano increased their IQ score by an average of three points more than the two other groups across all subcategories. [August 2004, Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society;; Dr. E. Glenn Schellenberg (University of Toronto).]
  • In a study performed at the University of Kansas, students enrolled in music education programs scored significantly higher on the English and math sections of standardized tests. The difference between the scores of music-educated and of non-music-educated students was as much as 22 percent. [Christopher Johnson and Jenny Memmott, Journal for Research in Music Education, Spring 2007.]


  • In this study, 45 boys between the ages of 6 and 15 had extensive musical training and participated in their school's orchestra, while 45 other boys of the same age had no training at all. Those with musical training recalled more words in a verbal memory test and retained those words once retested. This trend continued one year later, when they performed the same test on the same group once more. Verbal memory and retention were significantly better in the boys who had musical training. [Ho, Y. C., Cheung, M. C., & Chan, A. Music training improves verbal but not visual memory: cross-sectional and longitudinal explorations in children (2003) Neuropsychology, 12, 439-450.]
  • Studies conducted at Stanford University in 2004 showed that learning music improves one's ability to process spoken language. Two studies showed that people with a background in music could detect differences between word syllables better than those without a background in music. Experienced adult musicians whose brains underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging showed more efficient brain activity. Researchers concluded that music helps the brain differentiate between rapidly changing sounds. [, Nov. 2005.]
  • Playing music increases one's sensitivity to sound, both with music and language, which demonstrates the connection between the two. Learning music as a child may lead to better auditory development in the brain. [These results are from a study in the April 2007 issue of Nature Neuroscience. Contributors: Nina Kraus, Patrick Wong, Erika Skoe, Nicole Russo, Tasha Dees;]
  • Music education builds up the left side of the brain, the side where most language processing takes place. In addition to developing language skills, music can be a helpful tool for memorization. Associating songs with new learned material may increase retention of that material. [Children's Music Workshop]


  • Learning music physically changes your brain and its processing power. Researchers found that the brains of young children who studied music reacted differently to music than the brains of those children who didn't learn music. This change is related to memory. These same children took memory tests, and those who studied music excelled in all subcategories, including literacy, verbal memory, visio-spatial processing, mathematics, and IQ. [Dr. Laurel Trainor, Prof. of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behaviour at McMaster University, Director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind; Canada; published 9/20/06;]
  • 31 children were tested on arithmetic skills and spatial-temporal processing. Those who studied keyboard for at least two years since age three scored higher, and it appears as though at least two years of instruction were necessary to make a meaningful difference. [ERIC Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting, Can Music Instruction Affect Children's Cognitive Development? ERIC Digest; Frances H. Rauscher; ERIC Identifier: ED480540, Publication Date: 09/2003.]

Sources: "Why Music Education? 2007." National Association for Music Education. Accessed 18 Jul 2013;
Laura Lewis Brown, "The Benefits of Music Education." PBS. Accessed 18 Jul 2013;