Music a Key to Higher Learning Skills

Many of us either learned to play a musical instrument in private lessons or in the school band but the odds are we never knew it was also increasing our cognitive abilities. It turns out that not only were we boosting our math skills, our linguistic abilities and enhancing our coordination but we were also acquiring social skills. A 2014 study at the University of Graz in Austria found that studying music is beneficial to the brain’s plasticity. What does this mean? It turns out that children who study music have significantly thicker gray matter in the areas of the brain linked to attention and concentration.  As they age this leads to higher scores on attentional, linguistic and literacy tests. This is not just listening to music but requires learning to play an instrument, read music and even perform.

Learning to read music and think about how it should sound is a brain exercise in problem solving. When children think on a higher level about synchronization, they can take fragments of information and use them to make connections to create a finished work and this spills over into other subjects including math. It is believed that this occurs because learning music creates synapses in the brain not used before to fire up and translate to other areas of learning and life. Improved social skills are a huge benefit of training in music. Students know they won’t get the piece they play right the first time, so they learn to practice and develop their attention span and work ethic. Nothing boosts a child’s self-esteem like performing alone or in a group and feeling a sense of pride at their accomplishment. The children often see themselves as improved people and this shows in their carriage and interaction with adults and peers.

In response to these findings schools and nonprofits are working to promote musical education for children of all ages. Amazing results have been seen with graduation rates going from 50% to 93% for at risk high school students, who became involved in music lessons. All of these schools showed improved attendance, language skills and attention spans. Introducing musical training in young children often helps them learn other subject matter such as fractions because they can make the connection to music via half-notes and quarter-notes. There is no substitute for helping a child apply what they are learning to real life items of interest.

While homeschooling our family was lucky to have a piano in the house, so I could teach all of my children to read music and play to some degree. Out of the four children only one of them pursued the piano and then later added drums to her skill set. The other three children took up the guitar and taught themselves to play by practicing day after day. My youngest son still plays to relax and get inspiration for his writing. Music is not only a great addition to any school setting but a necessary one for the development and enhancement of creative thinking and cognitive abilities.

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