Will it make them smarter? Here's what you need to know.

By Meghan Overdeep
December 19, 2019
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In 2004, University of Toronto Mississauga psychologist Glenn Schellenberg published a paper in the journal Psychological Science that caused quite a stir. In Music Lessons Enhance IQ,” Schellenberg presented credible evidence to support what piano teachers have been telling generations of squirmy children: that music has positive effects on general intelligence.

Undark reports that Schellenberg had long been skeptical of the science suggesting that music education enhances children’s abstract reasoning and wondered if musically inclined children also happen to be more focused or ambitious. A passionate musician himself, he was said to have been delighted with the results of his study of 144 children.

By the time Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain on Music and Oliver Sachs’ Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain both made the New York Times’ best-seller list in 2007, people we convinced that music could increase intelligence.

But in 2013, the Education Endowment Foundation funded a bigger study that failed to corroborate Schellenberg’s findings, finding no evidence that music lessons improved math and literacy skills.

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So, where does science stand on the issue today? Most experts agree that the mental stimulation involved with practicing music coincides with differences in the overall structure of the brain. But there’s a serious chicken-and-the-egg conundrum: does studying music cause changes in musicians’ brains, or do people who are born with musically adept brains tend to become musicians?

Either way, the value of music in a child’s development cannot be refuted. Learning an instrument teaches discipline and teamwork and gives youngsters a sense of accomplishment.

As for Schellenberg? Well he’s still convinced that music can improve IQs, though he told Playbill that he cautions against arguing this point too strongly. “Studies show slight gains in IQ,” he said, “so there is mounting evidence that music training has some kind of cognitive benefit.”