Center for
Lifelong Music Making

"The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness and thus requires society to re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development....This argues for an improvement in the quality and quantity of music training in the schools." (Northwestern University neuroscientists Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran, 2010)

The following studies document some of the effects of daily singing and/or playing instruments on brain development and achievement in reading and math and other disciplines. 

Anvari, S.H., Trainor, L.J, Woodside, J, Levy, B.A. (2002). Relations among musical skills, phonological processing, and early reading ability in preschool children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 83 (20), 111-130.
Music skills were found to correlate significantly with both phonological awareness and reading development in 100 4- 5-year-old children.  Music perception appears to tap auditory mechanisms related to reading that only partially overlap with those related to phonological awareness, suggesting that both linguistic and nonlinguistic general auditory  mechanisms are involved in reading.

Biggs, M., Homan, S., Dedrick, R., Minick, V., Rasinski, T. (2008).  Using an Interactive Singing Software Program: A Comparative Study of Struggling Middle School Readers.  Reading Psychology, 29 (3), 195-213.
Software that teaches users to sing in tune and in rhythm while providing real-time pitch tracking was used in a study of struggling middle school readers.  The mean instructional level scores for the treatment group improved significantly (7 months during the 9-week study) compared with a control group that did not experience gains.  4 months after the study’s conclusion, the treatment students gained another 6 months whereas the control students evidenced no significant gains. 

Cheek, J.M. & Smith, L.R. (1999). Music training and mathematics achievement. Adolescence, 34, 759-61.
Eighth grade students who received two or more years of private lessons had a significantly higher mean mathematics score than did students with no private lessons.  Students who received lessons on keyboard had significantly higher mathematics scores than did students who had music lessons but not on the keyboard.

Costa-Giomi, E. (1999). The effect of three years of piano instruction on children’s cognitive development. Journal of Research in Music Education, 47 (3), 198-212, EJ 604 142.
9-year-old children who were provided with piano instruction scored higher than controls on a spatial-temporal task immediately following the instruction.  However, no differences between the music and control groups were found after two years of instruction.  A follow-up study revealed that those who began music instruction before age 5 scored significantly higher on spatial tasks than those who began later or did not receive instruction (Costa-Giomi, 2000).

Fujioka, T., Ross, B., Kakigi, R., Pantev, C. & Trainor, L. (2006). One year of musical training affects development of auditory cortical-evoked fields in young children. Brain, 129 (10), 2593-2608.
Kindergarten children who received 4 months of music instruction showed significantly greater gains in development of their phoneme segmentation fluency when compared to children who did not receive musical instruction.

Ho, Y., Cheung, M., & Chan, A.S. (2003). Music training improves verbal but not visual memory; Cross-sectional and longitudinal explorations in children. Neuropsychology, 17 (3), 439-450.
Children with music training demonstrated better verbal but not visual memory than did their counterparts without such training. When these children were followed up after a year, those who had begun or continued music training demonstrated significant verbal memory improvement. Students who discontinued the training did not show any improvement.

Kraus, N., Chandrasekarn, B., (2010). Music training for the development of auditory skills. Nature Reviews, 11, 599-605.
Music training leads to changes throughout the auditory system that prime musicians for listening challenges beyond music processing. This effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness.  
Moreno, S., Marques. C., Santos, A., Santos, M., Castro, S.L., Beson, M. (2009). Musical training influences linguistic abilities in 8-year-old children; moe evidence for brain plasticity.  Cereb Cortext 19:712-23.

Children showed enhanced reading and pitch discrimination abilities in speech after only six months of training in singing, analyzing, and listening.

Olson, E. K. (2003). Affirming parallel concepts among reading, mathematics, and music through kodály music instruction. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Iowa. Dissertation Abstracts International, 64 (12), 4400A.
Results of affirming parallel concepts during music class showed a significant difference between groups for first grade on math achievement.  Gender subgroups of first, second and third grade students revealed a significant difference for females at all grade levels in math achievement and first and second grade males in reading achievement.

Patel, A., J. Rosenberg, J., Slevc, L. (2009).  Making psycholinguistics musical: Self-pacedreading time evidence for shared processing of linguistic and musical syntax.  Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 16 (2), 374-381.
“Music and language draw on a common pool of limited processing resources for integrating incoming elements into syntactic structures. This overlap between language and music provides two viewpoints of our impressive syntactic processing abilities that should provide an opportunity to develop a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying our ability to process hierarchical syntactic relationships in general.”

Rasinski, T., Homan, S., Biggs, M. (2009).  Teaching reading fluency to struggling readers: method, materials, and evidence. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 25 (2 & 3), 192-204.
Authors advocate authentic approaches to fluency instruction that employ texts meant to be practiced and performed, such as songs and plays, rather than more mechanical approaches that emphasize reading rate as the major goal of such instruction. 

Rauscher, F.H., & LeMieux, M.T. (2003). Piano, rhythm, and singing instruction improve different aspects of spatial-temporal reasoning in head start children. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, New York.
123 economically disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-old children received musical instruction in three different groups: keyboard, singing, and rhythm.  All three music groups scored higher on spatial tasks following music instruction than did a control group, with the rhythm group scoring higher than all other groups on sequencing and arithmetic tasks.  Verbal, matching, and memory tasks were not significantly affected, suggesting that different types of music making affect different aspects of cognition.

Schellenberg, E. G. (2004). Music lessons enhance IQ. American Psychological Society, 15 (8), 511-514. Published Abstract—
The idea that music makes you smarter has received considerable attention from scholars and the media.  The present report is the first to test this hypothesis directly with random assignment of a large sample of children (N = 144) to two different types of music lessons (keyboard or voice) or voice or to control groups that received drama lessons or no lessons. Compared with children in the control groups, children in the music groups exhibited greater increases in full-scale IQ.  The effect was relatively small, but it generalized across IQ subtests, index scores, and a standardized measure of academic achievement.  Unexpectedly, children in the drama group exhibited substantial pre- to post-test improvements in adaptive social behavior that were not evident in the music groups.

Sulkin, I. (2010). Impact of hand-clapping songs on cognitive and motor tasks. Dissertation.
Children in first, second and third grades who sing and play hand-clapping games have neater handwriting, write better and make fewer spelling errors.  The children’s teachers reported that social integration is also better for these children.

Wan, C. Y. and Schlaug, G. (2010).  Music making as a tool for promoting brain plasticity across the life span. The Neuroscientist, 16(5) 566-577.

Playing a musical instrument trains the neural network and may produce cross-modal effects on other behavioral or cognitive operations that draw on this network.  These enhancements suggest the potential for music making as an interactive treatment or intervention for neurological and developmental disorders, as well as those associated with normal aging.

 Contact:  Ann Kay, Director 
Center for Lifelong Music Making