Hardly a week goes by without some new claim that extols the value of music in helping children in their academic, cognitive or general development. Put it down largely to the ‘Mozart Effect’, which says that listening to music makes you smarter. However, psychologists and musicologists alike now dismiss that idea as a popularly fabricated myth, and say it grossly simplifies what are the real benefits for children in engaging with music. Safe to say, there is a lot of uncritical jumping onto the bandwagon exhibited by the media on this subject.
Well a new study published by the British Journal of Music Education seems to lend credence to a related idea, and one we’ve reported on before, that playing a musical instrument can help children academically. ‘The impact of instrumental music learning on attainment at age 16: a pilot study’, written by Susan Hallam (University College London) and Kevin Rogers (Hampshire Music Service), compares the academic performance of two groups of school children: those who were learning a musical instrument, and those who were not.
It is a small study involving 608 students at three secondary schools, but nevertheless it shows that the first group of students had significantly better academic outcomes in maths and English. The authors conclude: “The evidence presented in this paper provides the first evidence from UK secondary schools that playing a musical instrument enhances performance on national examinations at KS4 and progress between KS2 and KS4 and that the impact is greater the longer a young person has been playing an instrument.” Here KS2 and KS4 (Key Stages 2 and 4) refer to children in the age brackets of 7-11 and 14-16 respectively.
Hallam and Rogers say they do not know the mechanics that might lie behind this correlation, but suggest the explanation is that children who play an instrument could have higher than average motivation or ability to express emotions. Their paper can be seen here.