Will Music Really Make Your Child Smarter?

The nineties have been the decade for widespread news about the affects of music on the brain. Everyone seems to be asking about the “Mozart Effect”, specifically what it is and how to use it to their child’s benefit. It is certainly an exciting time to be a music educator and a parent. We are finally able to look at documented research that shows that music is integral to a child’s growth, and use this information to help our children achieve their full potential. What more do we want as parents than to give our children all of the tools necessary to become happy, well-adjusted, intelligent human beings?

Unfortunately, like most popular theories, the “Mozart Effect” has become watered down in an effort by some people to make more money at the expense of the general public. You can go into any bookstore nowadays and buy “Mozart Effect” books, videos, tapes, and even bumper stickers.

The term “Mozart Effect” has come to simplify (by Don Campbell et al) a large body of research by neuro-scientists and experimental psychiatrists showing a definitive link between music study and improved spatial intelligence. This is nothing to be taken lightly. Children are born with over 100 billion unconnected or loosely connected nerve cells called neurons. Every experience that child has will strengthen or even create links between neurons. Those pathways that remain unused will, after some time, die. Because neural connections are responsible for every kind of intelligence, a child’s brain will develop to its full potential only through exposure to enriching experiences. It is important then, to identify the kinds of enrichment that forges the links between neurons.

Music has been clearly proven to improve neurological connections responsible for spatial intelligence. Spatial intelligence is necessary for a person to be able to see patterns in space and time. It is the ability to perceive the visual world accurately and to form mental images of physical objects. This kind of intelligence is used for higher brain functions such as music, complex math, solving puzzles, reasoning, and chess. Music specialists for years have noted that their musically-trained and involved students tend to be at the top of their class, often outscoring their non-musical classmates in mathematical tasks. Until recently, however, there was no way to clearly prove it.

Now we have an entire scientific collection of data suggesting what music educators have known for centuries– that music has a definitive effect on children’s developments.

So, what do we, as parents, do with this information? Here are some suggestions:

1. Although listening to well-structured and performed music such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach certainly is wonderful for exposure to the arts, it is not simply by listening to music that your child’s brain develops. All of the research has shown that music TRAINING is required. This means getting your children into music lessons early, while the music learning window is at its peak before age 9. Piano lessons seem to be exceptionally helpful, as the keyboard is symmetrical, balanced, and logical.

2. Support your child’s local music programs in schools, churches, synagogues, etc. Here you will find skilled, educated music instructors who will bring new musical experiences to your child, including an appreciation for music in culture, history, and pure listening enjoyment. Demand a quality music education for your children throughout their lives.

3. Reevaluate where music fits into your home. Question why music traditions and activities, once central to family life, have been replaced by mass-market entertainment requiring no familial participation. Get off the couch and onto the floor and sing, dance, play instruments with your child.

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