Most people think that playing a musical instrument makes you smarter. Musicians use it as a badge of honor. Because of this belief, almost every parent wants their children to take music lessons. But is it really true? What does “smarter” even mean? If your child takes music lessons, they’ll get into a good college and get a good job right? Well maybe, maybe not. Regardless of if music lessons actually make you smarter, that really shouldn’t be the only motivating factor in giving your children lessons.
Before I talk about why it’s not important, we should look at the research for and against the hypothesis. It’s not a slam dunk either way.
Taking Music Lessons May Make You Smarter
In one study, brains of musicians and non musicians were scanned using an MRI machine. The study found that musicians, especially those classified as “professional”, had quite a few brain regions that were larger than non musicians. The conclusion is that the regions of the brain that play a large role in memory and fine motor skills.
There have been many studies that have found a similar outcome, not just for music, but for other skills as well. The brain grows larger in areas where it’s used in early life. Seems like a pretty simple idea, but does this actually make a person smarter?
One thing that parents need to consider is that this outcome comes from actually being able to play an instrument, not just taking lessons. Lessons are a guide to learning. If a student doesn’t practice, they’re not going to learn. All too often I’ve found parents enrolling their kids in music lessons, thinking it’s the best thing for them, but then never emphasizing the need to practice. The result? A lot of money wasted with little to no result.
Taking Music Lessons May NOT Make You Smarter
About 80% of American adults think that music actually makes kids smarter. Although studies have been done to show that the brain physically gets bigger, not as many have been done to show the actual result to the student’s intelligence.
One study found that there is no correlation. In this study, children were given “music training” and tested 6 weeks later against a control who did not take music lessons. 45 children were studied. The result was that there was no statistically significant intellectual improvements in the group that took music lessons, and those that did not. Admittedly, the study was only for a short amount of time (6 weeks), and the sample size was also very small.
Researching a large enough sample size can be difficult. The only study in this area with a large sample size studied SAT test scores for 15,000 musicians and non musicians. It found that musicians did not have higher test scores than the non musicians.
Why It Doesn’t Matter
So do lessons make you smarter? I don’t think we know, and we probably never will. But who cares? Music lessons shouldn’t be taken for the sole purpose of making your child smarter. The obvious undisputed benefits to learning a musical instrument are much more important than becoming “smarter”.
Learning to work hard
Playing music is difficult. That’s why it’s so difficult to get kids to practice. It’s also one major reason why learning a musical instrument is an important experience for children. Not all things in life are easy, children need to learn from an early age that when they put their mind to something, and work hard, results will come. Music helps us look into the long term, and realize the results will only come after hard work.
Having a hobby
Too many people don’t have constructive hobbies. Watching TV, playing video games, and fidgeting with a smart phone all day has been shown to have negative impacts on children’s development. The problem is most people, both children and adults, don’t have real hobbies. Learning music, and being good at it, can be alleviate stress, and everyone should take advantage of it.
Feeling of accomplishment
Too often children are sat in front of a TV all day, so they never get the feel the joy that comes from accomplishing a task. When we succeed, the brain releases dopamine, and we feel a need to repeat the task to get the release of dopamine again. All too often this isn’t experienced by children, and therefore motivation for other tasks is much more limited.
Unfortunately many children are put in to every activity the parents can find. The argument is that children should be exposed to as much of the world as possible. By being exposed to soccer, basketball, baseball, martial arts, dance, music, horseback riding, tennis, etc. the child becomes well rounded. Well, that’s the argument. In reality all that happens is they never excel at any one skill. This leaves the child with fond memories of all the fun they had growing up, but no skills or hobbies as adults. Maybe trying many different activities is a great start, but choosing one or two activities is always best. When music is chosen as something to excel at, their self-esteem is built as they become confident in their abilities.
The key to receiving the benefits of music lessons, is not music lessons. Spending money on music lessons if you’re not willing to spend the time and make sure your child, or yourself, are practicing, is the same as throwing your money away. Your child won’t get smarter, won’t learn to work hard, will never learn how to play, and will never feel a sense of accomplishment.
Don’t worry, the opposite is true too. Taking music lessons seriously can have a huge positive influence on your child’s life, and shouldn’t be disregarded.
So what do you think? Are there other reasons music lessons should be taken other than those listed?. Let me know in the comments!