Running a music teaching studio for the past 16 years, we are not surprised anymore when parents of our students give us the news that their child’s overall school performance has improved.
In fact this is a well-researched phenomenon by now: Many international studies show that the process of learning a musical instrument improves a child’s overall performance.
Learning an instrument like the violin or guitar has been found to boost the following:
- Concentration: accuracy; sustained focus
- Goal setting, and tenacity pursuing a goal
- Creative problem solving
- Communications, relatability and emotional balance
- Dexterity; physical strength and tonus; stamina; fine-motor skills
- Hand-eye-ear coordination
- Some studies measured IQ before and after embarking on a year of instrumental studies, and found different amounts of increase for different instruments – violin scoring the highest with 12 additional IQ points
In our own studio, every now and then we teach students with specific disabilities and almost invariably find that learning the instrument helps them in other areas. We have taught dyslexic children whose reading improved; motor-challenged students whose general strength and ability improved sharply and who found music a wonderful distraction from what went wrong in their lives; repeatedly, children with ADHD or other learning disabilities, most of whom found a remarkable improvement in their focus; and various other examples.
But not only those who had diagnosed disabilities, but also children without any diagnosed problem benefit from learning the violin or guitar. We generally expect our students to get high marks in their school subjects.
Scientific studies underscore what we observe in our studio.
Manfred Spitzer, German neuroscientist, explains how practising music activates the entire brain; he also explains in one of several videos how the psychological process works that causes children to improve in school when they learn an instrument. He explains in a series of videos how the learning-reward-feedback loop in the brain operates, and how music connects with this.
Various sources are summarized in the article “The Benefits of Music – A Review” by I. Rossouw. To quote from that well-referenced review (the review’s references are listed in the review itself, not here):
Students in top-quality music programs scored 22% better in English and 20% better
in mathematics than students in deficient music programs.
Students in top-quality instrumental programs scored 17% higher in mathematics than children in schools without a music program, and 33% higher in mathematics than students in a deficient choral program.
Music enhances the process of learning. The systems it nourishes, which include our integrated sensory, attention, cognitive, emotional and motor capacities, are shown to be the driving forces behind all other learning.
Young Children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year, compared to children who do not receive musical training.
Musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics, and IQ.
To quote another reference:
“Over the years, researchers have noticed that people who have taken music lessons are better on a wide range of seemingly unconnected tasks. Just look at this impressive list of sources:
- Mathematics (across many different tasks; Vaughn, 2000)
- Reading (understanding a written text; Corrigall & Trainor, 2011)
- Simon task (quickly overcoming an easy, intuitive response in order to do a task right; Bialystok & DePape, 2009)
- Digit Span (repeating a long list of random digits; Schellenberg, 2011)
- Simple Reaction Time (pressing a button as soon as possible; Hughes & Franz, 2007)”
The benefits of learning a musical instrument such as the violin or guitar, don’t stop at the end of childhood though. If you are an adult and have never yet played an instrument, learning one will most certainly open up completely fresh ways of thinking for you. Some feedback from our adult students has been that it is a wonderful emotional release; that it is a nearly spiritual experience for them (and with the highly focused practising that is necessary, it does bear resemblance to some forms of meditation); and that once they have practised, they feel awake and alert even if they were tired when they started. It lowers stress levels and blood pressure, and takes your attention away from your current problems.
Are you “too old to begin”? No. We have successfully taught people as old as 70 years. Though it is unlikely that you’ll reach concert levels at that age, you will be able to play well enough to please yourself and even join ensembles.
Ideally however, we like starting children between ages 5 and 8. These have a good chance of becoming performing musicians, adding to their CV in the final years of school and enhancing their chances for being accepted for any study course. Classically there are a lot of high-level musicians among medical students.