The research is in. And it’s compelling. Music lessons benefit children. And teens. And college students. And middle-aged folks. And senior citizens. Music making provides cognitive, physical, behavioral, emotional, and spiritual benefits. Are you considering music lessons for your child? Wrong question. Here’s the real question: Why wouldn’t you consider music lessons for your child?
The cognitive benefits of music education are well documented:
- Researchers have found that one- year-olds who participate in inter- active music classes with their parents smile more, communicate better, and show earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music.1
- Young musicians show advanced brain development and improved memory over children who do not take music lessons.2
- Musical training (specifically, keyboard/piano) trumps computer instruction in strengthening children’s abstract reasoning skills—necessary for learning math and science.3
- Kindergartners who are given music instruction score significantly higher on spatial-temporal skills tests than those who do not receive music training.4
- First graders who received a daily dose of music instruction scored higher on creativity tests than a control group without music instruction.5
- Music education is a superior way to teach fractions.6
- Elementary school students who study music are better readers than their nonmusician counterparts.7
- Musical training helps under- achievers catch up in reading and surpass their nonmusician peers in math.8
- Secondary school students who report high levels of involvement in instrumental music over the middle and high school years show “significantly higher levels of math proficiency by grade 12.” The data holds true regardless of students’ socioeconomic status.9
There are physical advantages to being a musician too. Learning to play a musical instrument develops eye-hand coordination needed to learn handwriting.10 Senior citizens who took group keyboard lessons showed higher levels of human growth hormone (HGH) than a control group whose members did not make music.11 The most recent research indicates that playing an instrument or singing actually changes the brain. The musician’s brain is more capable than the nonmusician’s brain of comprehending speech in a noisy environment. Children with learning disabilities, who often have a hard time focusing when there’s a lot of background noise, may be especially helped by music lessons.12
Still not convinced? Consider the effects the study of music has on behavior:
- “Studying music encourages self- discipline and diligence, traits that carry over into intellectual pursuits and lead to effective study and work habits.”13
- A 1999 Columbia University study found that students in the arts were more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self- confident, and better able to express their ideas. These benefits existed across socioeconomic levels.14
- College admissions officers admit that applicants who participate in music have an advantage. They claim that musicians are better at managing their time and are more creative and expressive than their nonmusician peers.15
- One study concluded that college student musicians are emotionally healthier than their nonmusician counterparts.16
Besides reducing stress17 and job burnout, playing a musical instru- ment helps to curb loneliness and depression in older people.18 Musicians have an outlet for their emotions. Playing an instrument or singing can be especially valuable to those who find it difficult to express their thoughts and feelings. The adage “Music provides a window to the soul” is apt. The “tuned-in” listener knows precisely how the musician is feeling. Music unites too. My politically divided hometown lays its differences aside at Concerts on the Square. Amazingly, most music transcends the barriers of race, culture, society, education, and class.
There are spiritual benefits to both playing and hearing music too. When young David played his harp for Saul, “relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23). The psalmist David wrote, “My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul” (Psalm 108:1). A sainted professor once told his class that he often played hymns on the piano when he felt Satan’s attacks.
Martin Luther said it too: “I have no pleasure in any man who despises music. It is no invention of ours: it is a gift of God. I place it next to theology. Satan hates music: he knows how it drives the evil spirit out of us.” Playing or singing hymns that convey the truths of God’s Word brings com- fort, hope, and healing to the soul.
What is one of the best benefits (I arguably call it the highest good) of music lessons? Your child may have the opportunity/thrill/privilege of using that gift of music in public worship (whether in Sunday school, Lutheran elementary school, or church), to the praise and glory of the benevolent God who endowed your child with that talent. The next generation of church musicians is nurtured and encouraged by parents—like you— who see the Big Picture. They know we need skilled musicians, particularly organists and pianists, to lead us as we sing those “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19) until Jesus returns or calls us home.
The bottom line is that 85 percent of Americans wish they could play a musical instrument. Don’t let your child become a part of this statistic! For all the right reasons, parents, encourage your child to take music lessons!
- McMaster University, reported in Developmental Science and Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,
- McMaster University, reported in Brain,
- Shaw, Rauscher, Levine, Wright, Dennis, and Newcomb, “Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children’s spatial-temporal reasoning,” Neurological Research, 19 (February 1997).
- H. Rauscher and M. A. Zupan, “Classroom keyboard instruction improves kindergarten children’s spatial-temporal performance: A field experience,” in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 2 (2000).
- L. Wolff, “The Effects of General Music Education on the Academic Achievement, Perceptual-Motor Development, Creative Thinking, and School Attendance of First-Grade Children,” 1992.
- Neurological Research, March 15, 1999.
- Sheila Douglas and Peter Willatts, Journal of Research in Reading,
- Nature, May 23, 1996.
- J. Catterall, UCLA, 1999.
- Catterall, et al., 1999.
- Frederick Tims, reported in AMC Music News, June 2, 1999.
- Northwestern University researchers, as published in Neurobiology of Aging,
- Michael E. DeBakey MD, leading heart surgeon, Baylor College of Medicine.
- Burton, R. Horowitz, and H. Abeles, Champions of Change, Arts Education Partnership, 1999.
- Carl Hartman, “Arts May Improve Students’ Grades,” The Associated Press (October 1999).
- Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Report, reported in Houston Chronicle (January 1998).
- Barry Bittman, Loma Linda University School of Medicine and Applied Biosystems, as published in Medical Science Monitor (February 2005).
- “Scientific Study Indicates That Making Music Makes the Elderly Healthier,” American Music Conference, 1998.
Karen Janke Hunter was blessed with parents who recognized the value of piano lessons long before the research was done. She and her husband, Pastor Randy Hunter, reside in Middleton, Wisconsin. God has blessed them with three children.