For children, making music promotes learning

The young musician shines in all cognitive spheres that depend on attention, such as intelligence tests, memory and academic learning. Explanations by researcher Isabelle Peretz

Child playing piano

How does music learning affect our brains? What effects does it have on curiosity, attention and memory? Should music learning be made compulsory in school? These are some of the questions Isabelle Peretz asked. In Learning Music. Nouvelles des neurosciences, a book recently published by Editions Odile Jacob, this researcher advises to make music from the age of 6 months. She cites a rare study in the wild conducted by professors at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, on babies. “Babies and their parents learn a repertoire of songs by beating, moving and singing. After 6 months, the baby’s musical skills are tested.” Interestingly, parent-child communication is more intense and socio-emotional development (exploration, smiles) improves further among baby “musicians”. “I see in it the beginnings of intelligence,” analyses Isabelle Peretz.

Around the age of 6, similar effects are found. “Children aged 6 who receive piano or singing lessons for a year take a few more points on the intelligence measurement scale. Theater classes or the absence of lessons, during the same period, do not give such an advantage.” Interestingly, teaching 8-year-olds the basics of music for six months, one class per week, helps in the acquisition of reading skills.

While engaging your children in a daily class, you should not hesitate to call on outside help such as a babysitter, you should also know that babysitters sometimes have certain musical skills and can also give classes when they babysit your children.

A good complement to general education

The intellectual advantage of the young musician, expressed in higher academic performance, seems to be maintained throughout his schooling. For example, a recent survey of 18,000 students confirmed that at the end of high school (aged 16 to 17), Canadian students who participated in a wind orchestra, choir or string ensemble had a higher success rate in all subjects assessed (mathematics, biology, English). Those who had taken art courses did not show such an advantage. It should be noted, however, that the intellectual advantage is no longer observed in professional musicians when compared to non-musician professionals. “Music students do not have a higher IQ than university students in other disciplines,” notes Isabelle Peretz,”In other words, learning to make music is an asset when the activity is part of the general education. Subscribe to this newsletter and Iagree to receive special promotional offers and discounts.

What about the Mozart effect, according to which simply listening to music improves the intellect? “It is not enough to make the child hear music. The latter must do so,” says Isabelle Peretz. Thus, knowing that piano learning is more effective at modifying the brain than attentive but passive listening is to be taken into consideration in music instruction, such as in the master class where students attend without playing.

Studying with music

Some teachers also believe that studying with background music can help you concentrate. What does science say about it? “The results of the research are mixed. On the one hand, music can help you concentrate. On the other hand, she distracts. For example, it can affect reading and memory, especially if there are words. The presence of background music must therefore be measured with discernment.” Isabelle Peretz cites a recent study on the subject (The effect of background music: Listening to emotionally touching music enhances facial memory capacity).

In a learning phase, a student is asked to memorize several faces presented on a screen. In his headphones, he is sometimes heard melancholic instrumental music, sometimes the sound of rain, sometimes silence. “The results show that memory is better in the presence of moving instrumental music and in silence. Indeed, a joyful music distracts, as does the sound of rain.

Singing together promotes social cohesion

Another interesting fact is that music would have an effect on social behaviour. In this way, singing together would, according to several studies, increase confidence in each other and promote cooperation rather than competition. In the game of the prisoner’s dilemma, for example, known to probe the attitude of mutual aid in the face of betrayal, individuals who sing in chorus just before show greater confidence in the other and cooperate more than those who read poetry together or watch a film, or listen to pre-recorded music.

Is there an age beyond which it is no longer possible to learn music? “Many adults have always wanted to learn music,” observes Isabelle Peretz. And seeing the children’s music lessons, some wonder if this would not be an opportunity to get started. Science is encouraging in this regard. Yes, even at an advanced age, you can learn music.” He concluded: “In addition to the fact that this learning has a protective effect on the brain – the age-related decline is less devastating for the musician – learning music late improves listening in noise, attention and prevents the harm of social isolation.

The benefits of music and your child

Learning music is much more than just music

Educational research tells us that learning acquired in music education is transferable to all other disciplines. Good music instruction leads to better results in other disciplines. Music allows the development of skills in reading and mathematics. Music learning develops creativity, reflection, problem solving, the ability to pursue a long-term project and the knowledge of others. (Mc Caughey, 1985)

Making music is in itself an extraordinary concept of enrichment….

Scientifically, music and arts education is measurable, providing the development of several sustainable academic and social skills. Studies show that music education must be accessible to all students. A prominent Montreal psychologist, Robert Zatorre, argues that when we listen to or perform a piece of music, the whole brain is called upon.

Music allows us to structure memory over time, to fix and retain concepts. Let’s just think about using a melody to learn the alphabet:


Lamb and Gregory (1993) found a correlation between auditory discrimination and reading ability.

Learning music increases the chances of success in other school subjects

Music is a language that develops skills in children who do not excel in oral expression. In addition, music develops coordination, fine motor skills (playing an instrument – fingerings), better abstraction skills, verbal skills…

In the United States, in schools offering arts enrichment courses, students’ academic performance is 12 to 20 points higher than the average in other schools.

The countries with the highest scores in mathematics and science are Japan, Hungary and New Zealand. In all three countries, music education occupies a daily (daily) place in primary schools. In Japan, all children play a musical instrument or sing in the choir.

Learning music also has positive health benefits

Learning the art reduces stress and increases the immune system for three days after the activity. The practice of an art not only allows the development of the entire brain, but also the health of students. The behaviour of students who regularly practice an art reduces aggressive and delinquent behaviour.

Research has shown that musical practice:

  • Increases academic performance and social skills
  • Structures procedural memory
  • Facilitates the development of language, reading, expression
  • Involves most human faculties: perseverance, intelligence, creativity, feelings…
  • Develops kinesthetic, emotional and aesthetic sensitivity
  • Allows the transfer of transversal skills
  • Encourages students to have a positive image of the school
  • Develops the feeling of belonging to the school