Music training does not have a positive impact on children’s cognitive skills, according to a study published in Memory & Cognition.

It is commonly believed that “music makes children smarter,” the study authors wrote; however, previous studies have yielded mixed results. Some prior studies suggest there may be a link between music training and academic performance, while others found little effect. There are too few studies conducted to make a definitive conclusion about the positive effects of music education on cognitive characteristics, according to the current study.

The researchers re-analyzed data from 54 previous studies conducted between 1986 and 2019, with a total of 6984 children included. The authors of the current study found that music training did not enhance cognitive or academic skills. This was true regardless of the skill, such as verbal, non-verbal, and speed-related, the participants’ age, and the duration of the music training. 

High quality studies, such as when a control group was used, found no connection between music education and academic performance. Small effects were found in studies that did not include controls or that did not randomize participants, according to the press release. Control groups, which included children who learned a different skill, such as dance or sports instead of music, showed no effect from a lack of music education on cognitive or academic performance, according to the study.   

“Our study shows that the common idea that 'music makes children smarter' is incorrect. On the practical side, this means that teaching music with the sole intent of enhancing a child's cognitive or academic skills may be pointless,” said Giovanni Sala, PhD, lead author and researcher at Fujita Health University, Japan, in a press release. “While the brain can be trained in such a way that if you play music, you get better at music, these benefits do not generalize in such a way that if you learn music, you also get better at math. Researchers' optimism about the benefits of music training appears to be unjustified and may stem from misinterpretation of previous empirical data." 

Music training is beneficial for children, as it can help with self-esteem and improve social skills, according to the study authors. Additionally, certain elements of music training, such as arithmetical music notation, could be used to teach other skills. 

Reference:
Music training may not make children smarter after all (Press release) Fujita, Japan, July, 28, 2020. ScienceDaily, accessed July 31, 2020