I have an amazing tutor group, who are intelligent, work hard in their lessons and contribute a great deal to the school. Many of these children are musical and the music teacher suggested jokingly that music was the reason for their achievements. At the time, I scoffed at the suggestion and argued that being involved in any extra-curricular activity at school probably benefits children. However, since making these comments I decided to do a bit of research to see whether there really is a link between music lessons and intelligence. So what does the evidence show?
Schellenberg (2006) found a correlation between IQ, academic ability and how long 6- to 11-year-olds had been having music lessons, even when family income, parents’ education and involvement in non-musical activities were taken into account.
Schlaug and colleagues (2005) found that giving children music lessons can lead to improve visual-spatial, verbal, and mathematical abilities.
A study by Wong and colleagues (2007) suggests that musical training can help children to recognise different sounds and so help with reading and learning a second language.
Forgeard and colleagues (2008) compared children who had at least three years of instrumental music training with a control group and found that the musically trained children performed better on verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests.
You may argue that children who have music lessons may come from better off families with greater aspirations. You may also argue that children who have the motivation to learn a musical instrument may also have better attention spans and be more cooperative and so do better on tests. This is a problem with many of the studies looking at the effects of music lessons on intelligence. It is difficult to establish how music lessons actually help children.
Interestingly, research shows that music training improves academic achievement even when IQ remains constant. Learning a musical instrument may only improve children’s concentration and persistence rather than IQ. However, from my own perspective, I will be encouraging my son to learn a musical instrument as soon as he is old enough. I want him to have the enjoyment of music and the benefits.