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Music Education Important to Childhood Brain Development and Closing the Achievement Gap

Posted on October 10, 2013

Photo by woodleywonderworks used under Creative Commons License.

A recent article from The Atlantic highlights a new trend in neuroscience research that is investigating the role of music education on children’s cognitive development. While previous studies have simply inferred that music education led to improvements in brain structure and cognition, these new studies are taking a longitudinal approach. Working with non-profit organizations like the Harmony Project, which provide low income students with instruments and musical education, researchers are following kids year after year to see how music education is impacting their brain development and functioning.

Early results from these studies are promising. Results show that music education is improving children’s communication skills, memory, and attention. Another early and striking finding is that music education may help to close the achievement gap between rich and poor students. At-risk youth who participate in the Harmony Project have shown an improvement in their ability to hear speech in noise. This skill is typical of musicians and those who have received musical education. It can be a key skill for students who are trying to hear the teacher in a noisy classroom. These students also made grade appropriate improvements in their reading skills as compared to a control group that had not studied music. A similar study in San Diego’s underserved Chula Vista school district have also seen improvement. School administrators have been so impressed with how music education is helping students that the district has committed to providing all of its schools with a full time music teacher over the next ten years.

The preliminary results from these studies highlight the contributions that a music education can make to student development. As school district budgets are being cut all across the country elementary school students are losing access to music education, and students in low income districts are being disproportionately affected. Further research in this growing field could help to provide further context for the importance of music to school children’s cognitive development.

Faculty Associate Lisa Huisman Koops also studies childhood music education. Her work focuses on the importance of family in early childhood music development and education. Click here to download a policy brief on her research on the importance of culturally-informed music education.

Read more about these studies in The Atlantic article.

Page last modified: January 24, 2017