It is very common for parents to try and teach a musical instrument to their children. But are there any practical benefits from doing so? Statistically speaking, 99.9% of all kids will never end up with a career in music and playing instruments casually in social gatherings is a lot less common than it used to be in previous centuries.

As an example, perhaps it is proven that children who learn music perform better in other subjects such as mathematics? Or that it helps concentration in general? I'm mostly looking for scientific research, rather than hearsay, such as research on identical twins.

1 Answer 1


I have not found strong effects of musical training on non-music related skills in child development in the published research. Intervention studies that are well-controlled, for example, with music training tested against other active training, single blind, are relatively few in number. The results are somewhat predictable. The music-related skills improve (obviously), while other changes may or may not be of importance to most people. See, for example:

Habibi A, Damasio A, Ilari B, Elliott Sachs M, Damasio H. (2018) Ann N Y Acad Sci. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13606. Music training and child development: a review of recent findings from a longitudinal study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29508399, https://dornsife.usc.edu/assets/sites/1247/docs/Music_training_and_child_development__a_review_of_recent_Annals_of_the_New_York_Academy_of_Sciences_Habibi_et_al-2018.pdf

Contrary to their better performance on musical tasks, in the nonmusical cognitive tasks, children in the music group did not perform better or show more notable improvement than those in both control groups. We also did not observe any differences in cortical thickness or cortical volume between the music and control groups, outside of the auditory regions (e.g., in the inferior frontal gyrus). However, children with music training showed significantly greater neural activity during a color–word Stroop task in a network of brain regions that are known to be involved in response inhibition.

Interestingly, this contrasts sharply with the practice of many prominent teachers, such as Rafe Esquith, who include music training into the curriculum: https://www.arts.gov/honors/medals/rafe-esquith

[His program for the fifth grade students] includes studying a musical instrument and one of Shakespeare's plays for the entire year.

In view of this, I think that further studies are needed to study the effects of music training on development.

Finally, this question (or the studies such as above) do not address a very common reason for learning to play a musical instrument - just for the pleasure of it and for the beauty of making music.


Rafe Esquith: The Journey Is Everything (2007): https://www.giarts.org/article/journey-everything

I soon learned a basic truth: Students involved in arts education are learning about things far beyond the art they study. When a child goes off to play in an orchestra, he is not only learning to play the violin or clarinet. He is also learning about discipline, responsibility, teamwork, sacrifice, practice, correcting mistakes, listening, and time management. That's not a bad set of skills for a kid to have in his pocket. And to learn them and have fun at the same time is a pretty neat trick.

Rafe Esquith: "Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World" (2009) Viking Penguin, New York, pp.29-30: https://www.amazon.com/Lighting-Their-Fires-Extraordinary-Muddled-up/dp/0670021083/

The world would be a better place if playing music was a requirement for every child on the planet. Music is crucial for a child’s complete development no matter his aptitude. For many reasons, kids who play music have a better understanding of time than those who do not.

Einstein wrote about the connection between music and math, and students who perform brilliantly in music often develop a love of numbers. By necessity, musicians have a better understanding of time because of the intricate meters and time signatures that keep a band or orchestra together.

The benefits aren’t limited to the playing itself. When a child plays music, he learns to be on time for rehearsals. He also needs to plan his day and set aside time to practice his instrument. For better or for worse, a student sees the results of a lack of practice due to poor time management. Young musicians learn not only to keep time on their own but to keep time with others when playing in a group. All of the children with me at the ball game play music, and all are always on time both in class and for our extracurricular activities. It’s not a coincidence. Whether you are able to give your child private lessons or make sure he plays in school, music must not be optional. Reading music is as important as reading itself.

Many schools today see it differently, and offer music only as an elective. This is a mistake. Music training should be required as part of a complete education. If your child reads music, plays music, and makes it a part of his daily existence, his life will be better for it. Through music, a student will learn to literally play with others, and without realizing it will develop time management skills that will be useful throughout the day, even when the instrument is not being played.

  • The quotes by Rafe Esquith seem to be based on anecdotes, rather than on scientific research. Otherwise a good answer. Dec 7, 2019 at 21:06

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