STUDYING THE LINK
Over two decades ago researchers in the US began studying the link between learning ‘to read music and play the piano’, and ability in Math and Science. This led to a ten year UCLA study comparing results for young students taking music versus students taking computer classes. Students learning to read music and play the piano scored significantly higher on Math and Science assessments.
Researchers then went on to prove that learning to read music and play the piano has other cognitive benefits. Hong Kong university of China discovered that not only does the regiment of learning to read and play music increase the rate of learning new vocabulary, but it results in a permanent increase in the learning rate. If the music learning process stops, the increased capacity is retained. If the challenging music program starts again, the rate of learning increases further.
This makes sense. Consider that reading music requires the student to look at music notation (an abstract symbol set) and decode it. Playing music requires that decoded information to be used to guide ten fingers on the piano keyboard. The brain is operating challenging receptive and productive processes simultaneously, which is good exercise for the cerebral cortex, and it soon causes permanent changes in this iportant area of the brain.
BIGGER BRAINS & CEOs
One recent MIT study determined that the cerebral cortex of a concert pianist is enlarged by 30% on average compared to people that are considered intellectuals, but who did not have instrumental music education as a child.
START EARLY, STAY IN SCHOOL
There are several less-tangible, but important advantages to learning to read music and play an instrument. In one Chicago High School the dropout rate improved dramatically, two short years after a challenging music program was introduced to all students.
Cognitive specialists agree, people are designed to be musical, and to develop that ability is an important advantage, most significant if this is started at an early age. Musicians acknowledge an important spiritual and motivational side to music.
MUSIC BENEFITS INDIVIDUALS WITH AUTISM, ADHD AND BRAIN TRAUMA
The combination of these benefits is very interesting when considering music learning as a treatment for various conditions that affect both learning and behaviour. Consider Autism, ADHD, or even brain trauma, stroke or aneurism. For these indivuals, learning to read usic and play the piano can be a very important source of successes, increating rates of learning and improving behaviour.
BARRIERS TO REAL-LIFE IMPLEMENTATION
Many of these studies involve large numbers of young children learning to play an instrument and clearly required special conditions. It’s very difficult to implement a challenging, multi-year instrumental music program with a significant number of students because of the cost and space traditionally associated with instrumental programs. Traditional methods are simply too expensive to consider providing this beneficial development to all children at a particular school. As a result, normally 5-10 percent of the school population receives an instrumental music education.