The Real Mozart Effect and why we should support music education

i-3142e0f186b492941b89ffeffe2a2ca5-EndorpBrain.gifMusic education in the United States has typically been one of the first thing to be cut when it comes to balancing the budget. This is a horrible shame since music is one of those things (above any of the other arts) that has a wide ranging effect on peoples intellectual achievement. One of the holy grails in education and psychology is skill transference. Imagine being able to train one ability that positively affects the performance of many many other abilities. Sounds a bit ridiculous eh?! Well, music seem to be one of the only things that can have this effect. Psychologists have termed this Far Transfer.

According to an article in Psychological Science by E. Glenn Schellenberg from the University of Toronto, students, regardless of socio-economic status, showed wide ranging improvements in all of the sub-sections of the WISC-III (Wechsler, 1991) when they were involved in a music training program. This effect was very specific to music and did not appear for the control groups who either did nothing or studied drama. Check out this graph:


You can see this effect is relatively small but the fact that music training has this type of effect at all is absolutely incredible. So how do music lessons do this?!

According to the article,

Music lessons involve long periods of focused attention, daily practice, reading musical notation,
memorization of extended musical passages, learning about a variety of musical structures (e.g., intervals, scales, chords, chord progressions), and progressive mastery of technical (i.e., fine-motor) skills and the conventions governing the expression of emotions in performance.

Music has all sorts of other documented benefits to education. To read about many many more visit the American Music Conference site.

So how can we support music education in this country? Yes I have an answer! Donors Choose! This wonderful charity,

is a simple way to provide students in need with resources that our public schools often lack. At this not-for-profit web site, teachers submit project proposals for materials or experiences their students need to learn. These ideas become classroom reality when concerned individuals, whom we call Citizen Philanthropists, choose projects to fund.

We have established some funds that support music and science that I think you'll be interested in. So please please help out the teachers and donate some money to one or all of the funds by clicking on the widget below!


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Great! Now lets see a study to find out if players of Guitar Hero get a similar benefit. ;)

If this study shows that music education is central to intellectual development, then it also must show that drama is irrelevant.


By I don't buy it (not verified) on 07 Oct 2007 #permalink

"If this study shows that music education is central to intellectual development, then it also must show that drama is irrelevant."

Yea, but maybe drama helps in social relationships.

IQ tests are designed to measure innate intelligence and should be unaffected by education. This study suggests that attending a school with good music education (in general wealthier schools) gives a boost to the intelligence scores. Therefore, the WISC should be revised to negate this effect to avoid discriminating on the basis of socioeconomic status.

Secondly, classroom curriculums should not be based around teaching to standardized tests.

By Herb West (not verified) on 09 Oct 2007 #permalink

"At no point does my post or the paper it is about suggest that curriculum's should be based around teaching to a standardized test."

You are arguing that students take a music class so that they score higher on the WISC-III. Your point is to teach to the test. I didn't miss it.

By Herb West (not verified) on 09 Oct 2007 #permalink

My understanding was that Steve wasn't "arguing" anything, but rather presenting straightforward, published data that showed a significant benefit to music education which bled over to other forms of intelligence.

As a hearing researcher and someone interested in the science of music, this makes perfect sense and is bolstered by quite a few other studies. Being in possession of a sophisticated "ear" (ie, understanding the underlying properties of music) develops knowledge of mathematics, metric, meter, as well as the ability to integrate multiple levels of synchronous sound. This sort of high-level cognitive processing can only be beneficial so other types of complex tasking, including tests as rigid as an IQ or standardized test. It isn't that that is the limit of the benefit, but rather that, in a publication, it makes good sense to illustrate those benefits in concrete, quantifiable ways.

Keep in mind that music lessons had a benefit only in comparison to drama and nothing. I imagine that an extra hour in math instruction or an extra hour reading would work just as well if not better to enhance IQ test scores.

Also keep in mind that the paper's point is that it is surprising there is any connection at all between music lessons and IQ. The paper did not conclude that music lessons are an efficient way to raise IQ. The effect observed in these data was "relatively modest."

By Herb West (not verified) on 09 Oct 2007 #permalink

"... the fact that music training has this type of effect at all is absolutely incredible."

Definitely, given how narrow a phenomenon skill transfer usually is. Makes it all the more wonderful, I think.

I'd take music classes any day over half-assed PE or sports programs that don't do a thing for childhood obesity. (A good PE program might be another matter. But how many of those are around?)

Well, at least this article is getting somewhere. Face it: today, music programs are considered an expense in many schools. When budget cuts are made, what goes first? Sports or music? The answer: music. My high school recently had to face a possibility of cutting all extracurriculars. Were people concerned about the music programs? Yes, but what were they more concerned with? Sports or music? The answer is sports. We need music in schools. Just look at "Music and the Brain" by Laurence O' Donnell. It proves what this article says: music is imperative to an exceptional education.

Also, to Steve Higgins: No, they're just trying to make sure it stays. Music education is dying out. We need to work for this.

Oh, and one more thing. I feel so strongly about it because I am still in school- I am only a Sophomore in high school.

By A Concerned Hi… (not verified) on 01 Nov 2007 #permalink