Researchers have known about the benefits of music education for students for decades. Piano Forte Music School owner Marie Dvorkin wholeheartedly agrees. After all, she’s seen the evidence firsthand.
“Nothing gives a student such development as learning an instrument,” Dvorkin says. “Knowing music gives students such an advantage.”
She’s seen her piano students excel in other areas of their education and has heard from parents that their children perform well academically and socially.
Readers may wonder how learning an instrument, playing scales, learning proper fingering and reading music can help youth in other areas of their education.
The answer to the benefits of music education can be found in “neuroplasticity,” the ability of the brain to develop new connections as children learn new skills.
And those new connections lead to some pretty cool results.
Here are seven benefits of music education for students:
Language Development and Reasoning
Students who learn music exercise the parts of their brains responsible for learning and understanding language, Dvorkin explained.
Music is a language all on its own. As students learn notes, time signatures, key signatures and tempo and volume directions, they build up the pathways in their brains that allow them to take all that information in at once and decode what it all means.
In a 2005 Stanford University study, researchers attributed the advanced language processing needed when reading music to training a child’s brain to notice minor differences in spoken words.
The areas of the brain that help with those decisions are also the same areas essential for processing language. Studies also show that learning an instrument benefits the brain by helping it understand how different words can have similar meanings, which helps overall communication abilities.
And a newer study on the benefits of music education, authored in 2018 by researchers at Beijing Normal University, found that “piano lessons have a very specific effect on kindergartners’ ability to distinguish different pitches, which translates into an improvement in discriminating between spoken words.”
Learning music is an excellent way for children to learn about how the left side of their brain works. Studies show that they are better able to reason with language, have improved sound recognition skills and remember information much easier once it’s been taught through song.
This leads to the next benefit of music education:
Another positive to beefing up the left side of the brain is that music education teaches rhythm and rhyme along with memory retention techniques. Teachers have known this for decades, and they’ve helped students remember facts by learning songs.
Think about those Schoolhouse Rock animations that started appearing in the 1970s. Remember “I’m Just A Bill,” or “Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function?”
The developers of those animations hit on something huge. Music helps kids (and adults) remember stuff.
There are other studies that show adults who learned music as children retain information better and longer than those adults who did not learn music.
“It’s that high level of concentration,” Dvorkin says.
Dvorkin encourages her piano students to memorize their music while preparing for any kind of performance.
By learning to play an instrument, students build connections between regions in the brain responsible for sensory, motor and memory activities. This benefits how well they retain information for practical applications.
Increased Hand/Eye Coordination
Can understanding spatial relationships and improving small motor function be benefits of music education?
Think about playing the piano or learning an instrument. The brain has to recognize each note, transfer that information to the fingers so the musician plays the right notes or presses the correct keys. Then the musician must look ahead a few notes as they play so they know what to do next and execute – all within nano-seconds.
A violinist must use one hand to depress strings while using the other to move a bow over those strings.
A flutist must learn to breathe properly and depress specific keys, without looking at their hands, to produce a certain note.
A pianist must use two hands to play different chords while one hand plays one tune and the other plays something totally different.
When students start learning how to translate notes into actions, they’re not that good at it, Dvorkin says. But as they build up the connections in their brains, they learn how. That ability transfers to other physical activities, like knowing where a ball will end up after they throw it or recognizing when to jump over a rope they are swinging.
Music and Math: Made for Each Other
Another of the benefits of music education is building up a student’s math skills.
Musical concepts are based on math – time signatures, note lengths and patterns.
“I teach using fractions,” Dvorkin says. “Why does a whole note have four quarter notes? Music is all about math.”
In a 2012 article that appeared on the PBSKids website, Dr. Kyle Pruett, a clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine, says that learning an instrument helps children solve multi-step problems like those encountered in architecture, engineering, math, art, gaming and computers.
He attributes this skill to the link between music and spatial intelligence.
Why is it that two pianists can play the same piece of music and they don’t really sound alike?
Emotion, imagination and creativity from each performer impact how they play compositions, Dvorkin says.
Another of the benefits of music education is the ability for the student to develop their creative side.
“We talk about not just playing the notes, but about the character of the music,” she says. Along with creativity is the development of self-expression.
Musicians follow some specific and time-tested rules, but those rules don’t account for the performer’s self-expression and creativity when performing a composition.
Practice, practice, practice.
The best way students can take advantage of these benefits of music education is to practice daily. Committing to daily practice means the student must develop self-discipline, Dvorkin says.
And when a child develops the discipline to practice music every day, that same child will probably put the same effort into other parts of their life.
By practicing, students advance in their musical abilities, which builds their self-esteem.
One of the things Dvorkin loves about her students is watching them blossom into musicians.
“They see they started at zero, and now they either completed a piece or learned many, many new things,” she says.
“They see this development of how they are getting better, how things are getting easier.” Then when it’s time to perform, “they have all this knowledge.”
She says her students are “very courageous” to walk onto a stage and perform in front of many people, but because they’ve put in the effort, they have the confidence to know they can.
Dvorkin says that knowing how to play piano or learning an instrument gives students an advantage that students who don’t know music may not have.
As she watches her students learn and excel, Dvorkin feels proud to have played a part in their learning and development.
Parents play a huge role in music education, Dvorkin says. After all, parents are the people who usually enroll their children in music lessons. Parents wishing to learn more about the benefits of musical education can contact Dvorkin to learn how they can enroll their children in piano lessons.