15 Ways That Music Education Helps Students

Research has told us for years that music education is beneficial but what are the specific ways that music education helps students?

1. Music Lights Up Every Area of the Brain

When students are engaged in music making, multiple areas of the brain come alive. We have known for a long time that the brain processes the various aspects of music (timbre, timing, rhythm, pitch, and dynamics) in different parts of the brain.

A study by Finnish researchers proved that just the act of listening to music lights up the whole brain including areas responsible for motor actions, emotions, and creativity.

Studies by Sugaya discovered that music may increase neurogenesis in the brain. Other supporting studies also found that listening to music facilitates neurogenesis, in other words, the regeneration and repair of cerebral nerves by adjusting the secretion of steroid hormones, leading to cerebral plasticity.

This is so important for students because if they don’t possess certain neural wiring relating to skills, the brain is able to change and make new connections.

Music Education develops the brain!

2. Creates Powerful Study Habits and Discipline

As children progress in school, they are subjected to more difficult subjects and new information which requires study and discipline at home to achieve success.

Music education requires repetition, patience and diligence to master, whether it be playing an instrument, understanding the structure of music, singing in a choir or classroom music.

Music has structure that spills into other subject matter with having to identify patterns (which may be repeated or mirror image) and involves developing skills that require the person to process more than one piece of information at a time.

3. Improved Test Scores

A study by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, found that students in elementary schools with superior music education programs “scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs, regardless of socioeconomic disparities among the schools or school districts.

Johnson compares the concentration that music training requires to the focus needed to perform well on a standardized test.”

Because of the cross over in concepts such as size, length, duration etc, music education has also been linked with a better understanding of science subjects.

Studies also show students who have had music education perform better across a broad range of subjects in high school.

4. Increased Spatial Intelligence

Music education research shows a causal link between music and spatial intelligence (the ability to perceive the world accurately and to form mental pictures of things and be able to mentally manipulate them). This spatial-temporal intelligence, allowing someone to visualize various elements that should go together, is critical to the sort of thinking necessary for everything from solving advanced mathematics problems to being able to pack a school bag with all the necessary items needed for that day.

5. Enhanced Language and Vocabulary

Studies have shown that students with continued music education show more advanced reading and comprehension skills and have a larger vocabulary.

hile there has always been a connection made in research between areas of the brain responsible for music and language, growing research is discovering the connection is stronger than previously thought.

Learning a musical instrument can also help how the brain understands language, which can help students when learning a second language.

6. Provides a Means for Personal Expression

Music speaks to the limbic part of the brain, the part that deals with emotions. Simple instruments like hand drumming, singing in a choir or singing along to songs as you listen are ways students can express their emotions without speaking about it.

The drum can become a voice for a teenager who can’t speak about their emotions. The various moods in music provide an avenue for identifying and naming emotions students are feeling.

Performing on an instrument allows a student to add their own personal interpretation and expression.

7.Quickened Cortical Thickness Maturation

The surface of the brain is called the cerebral cortex. Although it is less than half a centimeter (0.2 of an inch) thick, it is critical in our ability to move, to understand what we see, and what we hear and think.

It is a complex process of:

  • making decisions
  • learning
  • remembering, and
  • planning.

A study has shown that students who had music training had an increased rate of cortical thickness maturation. This aids the skills above and helps with overall brain function.

8. Enhances Processing of Speech in Noise

A study done by Nina Kruase and Samira Anderson looked at the neural coding between music and speech and revealed that musicians who played an instrument were much more adept at processing speech in an environment where there was noise.

They also found that even if a child had done 3 years of music education when young but not kept it up, those gains stayed into adulthood.

The implications for students are huge who sit in noisy classrooms and have to pick out the teacher’s voice. Being able to isolate a sound amidst competing sounds is an essential skill in the classroom and one that can lead to poor grades and overall lack of performance if this is a challenge.

9. Increased Problem-Solving Skills

A study out of the University of Alabama found that music lessons benefit children by improving time management and problem skills among others. 

Results showed that:

  • 85% percent of parents recognized that their child had a greater ability to keep working until they finished a task, even when that task was difficult
  • 68% of parents believed that their child improved their ability to finish tasks on time and had a greater ability to keep track of what they needed to accomplish
  • 60%t of parents perceived that their child had a greater ability to self-monitor and limit their screen-time use because they knew it was good for them
  • 71% of parents said their child was able to better self-monitor their screen-time because they knew it gave them more time to do things that were important to them

Creative problem solving requires the presence of creative thought and it benefits from critical thinking and analytical thinking which are two skills that are acquired from music education. It helps students to establish a link between abstraction and building patterns with nonverbal intended patterns.

10. Develops Skills Necessary in the Workplace

Music education develops skills that are necessary in the workplace. It focuses on “doing,” as opposed to observing, and teaches students how to perform, literally, anywhere in the world.

Employers are looking for multi-dimensional workers with the sort of flexible and supple intellects that music education helps to create. In the music classroom, students can also learn to better communicate and cooperate with one another.

11. Enhanced Math Skills

Learning to read music teaches the concept of division, addition and fractions. Getting Smart explains, “When a music pupil has spent time learning about rhythm, he has learned to count. He is not counting numbers, per se, but he is most certainly using logic to count out the rhythms and bars, and working his way methodically through the piece. Many musical concepts have mathematical counterparts.”

Spatial-temporal learning as mentioned before is also a part of the music/math crossover.

12. Better Decision Making Skills and Ability to Focus

Additional research has revealed that music instruction also boosts engagement of brain networks that are responsible for decision making and the ability to focus attention and inhibit impulses.

A different study published in the journal PLoS One, neuroscientists found that when the young musicians were performing an intellectual task, they demonstrated greater engagement of a brain network that is involved in executive function and decision-making.

Eric Rasmussen of John Hopkins University found “there’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training.”

13. Spurs Emotional and Behavioral Growth in Students

James Hudziak, a professor in psychiatry involved with the largest study involving students who learn to play a musical instrument revealed that two of the benefits were emotional and behavioral growth. “What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument, it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.”

Another study by The Brain and Creativity Institue at USC where they followed young musicians for 5 years found that after 2 years of learning an instrument, students had more advanced cognitive and socio-emotional skills.

14. Develops Advanced Auditory Skills

The auditory system is essential in eveyr facet of learning. We have 13 essential auditory skills and many of them are developed when students are exposed to music education. The auditory system is stimulated by music and is engaged in sound processing essential for language acquitision, reading and comprehension, social and communication skills.

These skills help in everyday life, not to mention the classroom.

Students develop and fine tune the following:

  • How to recognize the nuances melodies which helps when listening for differences in language
  • How to detect and process gaps in music (silences) which is essential for communication skills
  • How to detect and process timing in music (where the notes fall) which directly relates to speech. For example there is a 40 millisecond difference between a “b” and d” sound so being able to detect minute timing differences is essential)
  • Process expression, moods and dynamics in music which relates to social and communication skills and reading the moods of others by the tone of their voice. It also affects the ability to read and to use the voice differently when the text calls for it.

15. Enhances Memory Function

We can each only process a certain number of items in our working memory at once, then the brain becomes overwhelmed and ceases to pick up some of the information. The brain is clever and can group information into logical bundles so it can use more working memory for other things.

This represents 12 pieces of information that our brain is trying to process. That would tie our brain up trying to process each piece of information at once.

But what is the brain saw information in groups?

Those 12 pieces of information have now become 3 groups (or 3 pieces of information) leaving the res tof the working memory able to take on more information to process.

Music is filled with patterns and groups. The brain of musicians is trained to detect and recognize groups and patterns. This develops the working memory and makes it more efficient with processing all information.

As musicians also learn to memorize information, this works the memory in a different way, helping students to be able to not only process but to recall information on cue.


In a world where music education is often considered an “extra” if a school or a family can afford it, the benefits are vital to not only other school learning, but social interactions, speech and language, reading and comprehension and brain growth.

Research has shown that the benefits are lifelong, regardless if the active music education continues. Two years of quality music education gives any student an advantage against his or her peers. Why then, is it seen as an extra and not essential?

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