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The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people

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Abstract

This paper reviews the empirical evidence relating to the effects of active engagement with music on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people. It draws on research using the most advanced technologies to study the brain, in addition to quantitative and qualitative psychological and educational studies. It explains how musical skills may transfer to other activities if the processes involved are similar. It explores the evidence relating to the impact of musical skills on language development, literacy, numeracy, measures of intelligence, general attainment, creativity, fine motor co-ordination, concentration, self-confidence, emotional sensitivity, social skills, team work, self-discipline, and relaxation. It suggests that the positive effects of engagement with music on personal and social development only occur if it is an enjoyable and rewarding experience. This has implications for the quality of the teaching.
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The power of music: its impact on the intellectual, social and
personal development of children and young people
Susan Hallam,
Executive Summary
Recent advances in the study of the brain have enhanced our understanding of the way that
active engagement with music may influence other activities. The cerebral cortex self-
organises as we engage with different musical activities, skills in these areas may then
transfer to other activities if the processes involved are similar. Some skills transfer
automatically without our conscious awareness, others require reflection on how they might
be utilised in a new situation.
Perceptual, language and literacy skills
Speech and music have a number of shared processing systems. Musical experiences which
enhance processing can therefore impact on the perception of language which in turn impacts
on learning to read. Active engagement with music sharpens the brain’s early encoding of
linguistic sound. Eight year old children with just 8 weeks of musical training showed
improvement in perceptual cognition compared with controls.
Speech makes extensive use of structural auditory patterns based on timbre differences
between phonemes. Musical training develops skills which enhance perception of these
patterns. This is critical in developing phonological awareness which in turn contributes to
learning to read successfully.
Speech processing requires similar processing to melodic contour. Eight year old children
with musical training outperformed controls on tests of music and language.
Learning to discriminate differences between tonal and rhythmic patterns and to associate
these with visual symbols seems to transfer to improved phonemic awareness.
Learning to play an instrument enhances the ability to remember words through enlargement
of the left cranial temporal regions. Musically trained participants remembered 17% more
verbal information that those without musical training.
Children experiencing difficulties with reading comprehension have benefitted from training
in rhythmical performance.
Numeracy
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Research exploring the relationships between mathematics and active musical engagement
has had mixed results, in part, because not all mathematics’ tasks share underlying processes
with those involved in music. Transfer is dependent on the extent of the match, for instance,
children receiving instruction on rhythm instruments scored higher on part-whole maths
problems than those receiving piano and singing instruction.
Intellectual development
Learning an instrument has an impact on intellectual development, particularly spatial
reasoning. A review of 15 studies found a ‘strong and reliable’ relationship, the author
likening the differences to one inch in height or about 84 points on standardised school tests.
A study contrasting the impact of music lessons (standard keyboard, Kodaly voice) with
drama or no lessons found that the music groups had reliably larger increases in IQ. Children
in the control groups had average increases of 4.3 points while the music groups had
increases of 7 points. On all but 2 of the 12 subtests the music group had larger increases than
control groups.
General attainment and creativity
There is a consistent relationship between active engagement in music and general attainment
but much research has been unable to partial out confounding factors. A recent study,
adopting more sensitive statistical modelling overcame these difficulties. Two nationally
representative data sources in the USA with data from over 45,000 children found that
associations between music and achievement persisted even when prior attainment was taken
into account.
Music participation enhances measured creativity, particularly when the musical activity
itself is creative, for instance, improvisation.
Personal and social development
General attainment may be influenced by the impact that music has on personal and social
development. Playing an instrument can lead to a sense of achievement; an increase in self-
esteem; increased confidence; persistence in overcoming frustrations when learning is
difficult; self-discipline; and provide a means of self-expression. These may increase
motivation for learning in general thus supporting enhanced attainment.
Participating in musical groups promotes friendships with like-minded people; self-
confidence; social skills; social networking; a sense of belonging; team work; self-discipline;
a sense of accomplishment; co-operation; responsibility; commitment; mutual support;
bonding to meet group goals; increased concentration and provides an outlet for relaxation.
Research in the USA on the benefits of band participation found that 95% of parents believed
that participation in band provided educational benefits not found in other classrooms.
Working in small musical groups requires the development of trust and respect and skills of
negotiation and compromise.
In adolescence music makes a major contribution to the development of self-identity and is
seen as a source of support when young people are feeling troubled or lonely.
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Music has been linked to the capacity to increase emotional sensitivity. The recognition of
emotions in music is related to emotional intelligence.
Increasing the amount of classroom music within the curriculum can increase social cohesion
within class, greater self-reliance, better social adjustment and more positive attitudes,
particularly in low ability, disaffected pupils.
The positive effects of engagement with music on personal and social development will only
occur if, overall, it is an enjoyable and rewarding experience. The quality of the teaching, the
extent to which individuals perceive that they are successful, and whether in the long term it
is a positive experience will all contribute to the nature of any personal or social benefits.
Physical development, health and wellbeing
Rhythmic accompaniment to physical education enhances the development of physical skills.
Learning to play an instrument enhances fine motor co-ordination.
There may be particular health benefits for singing in relation to the immune system,
breathing, adopting good posture, improved mood, and stress reduction. The research has
been carried out with adults but these benefits could equally apply to children.
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The power of music: its impact on the intellectual, social and
personal development of children and young people
Introduction
Recent advances in the study of the brain have enabled us to enhance our understanding of
the way that active engagement with music influences other development. Although our
knowledge of the way the brain works is still in its infancy some of the fundamental
processes involved in learning have been established. The human brain contains
approximately 100 billion neurons a considerable proportion of which are active
simultaneously. Information processing is undertaken largely through interactions between
them, each having approximately a thousand connections with other neurons. When we learn
there are changes in the growth of axons and dendrites and the number of synapses
connecting neurons, a process known as synaptogenisis. When an event is important enough
or is repeated sufficiently often synapses and neurons fire repeatedly indicating that this event
is worth remembering (Fields, 2005). In this way changes in the efficacy of existing
connections are made. As learning continues and particular activities are engaged with over
time myelinisation takes place. This involves an increase in the coating of the axon of each
neuron which improves insulation and makes the established connections more efficient.
Pruning also occurs, a process which reduces the number of synaptic connections, enabling
fine-tuning of functioning. Through combinations of these processes, which occur over
different time scales, the cerebral cortex self-organises in response to external stimuli and the
individual’s learning activities (Pantev et al., 2003).
Extensive active engagement with music induces cortical re-organisation producing
functional changes in how the brain processes information. If this occurs early in
development the alterations may become hard-wired and produce permanent changes in the
way information is processed (e.g. Schlaug et al., 1995). Permanent and substantial
reorganisation of brain functioning takes considerable time. Long years of active engagement
with particular musical activities in Western classical musicians are associated with an
increase in neuronal representation specific for the processing of the tones of the musical
scale, the largest cortical representations being found in musicians playing instruments for the
longest periods of time (Pantev et al., 2003). Changes are also specific to the particular
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musical learning undertaken (Munte et al., 2003). Processing of pitch in string players is
characterised by longer surveillance and more frontally distributed event-related brain
potentials attention. Drummers generate more complex memory traces of the temporal
organisation of musical sequences and conductors demonstrate greater surveillance of
auditory space (Munte et al., 2003). Compared with non-musicians, string players have
greater somatosensory representations of finger activity, the amount of increase depending on
the age of starting to play (Pantev et al., 2003). Clearly, the brain develops in very specific
ways in response to particular learning activities and the extent of change depends on the
length of time engaged with learning. The extent of musical engagement and its nature will
be important factors in the extent to which transfer can occur to non-musical activities.
The ways that we learn are also reflected in specific brain activity. When students (aged 13-
15) were taught to judge symmetrically structured musical phrases as balanced or unbalanced
using traditional instructions about the differences (including verbal explanations, visual aids,
notation, verbal rules, playing of musical examples), or participating in musical experiences
(singing, playing, improvising or performing examples from the musical literature), activity
in different brain areas was observed (Altenmuller et al., 1997). The tools and practices
utilised to support the acquisition of particular musical skills have a direct influence on brain
development and preferred approaches to undertaking musical tasks, also influencing
approaches to tasks outside music. Musicians with similar observable skills may have
developed different approaches to developing them which may or may not facilitate transfer
to other tasks.
Each individual has a specific ‘learning biography’ which is reflected in the way the brain
processes information (Altenmuller, 2003:349). As individuals engage with different musical
activities over long periods of time permanent changes occur in the brain. These changes
reflect what has been learned and how it has been learned. They will also influence the extent
to which developed skills are able to transfer to other activities.
Transfer of learning
The transfer of learning from one domain to another depends on the similarities between the
processes involved. Transfer between tasks is a function of the degree to which the tasks
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share cognitive processes. Transfer can be near or far and is stronger and more likely to occur
if it is near. Salomon and Perkins (1989) refer to low and high road transfer. Low road
transfer depends on automated skills and is relatively spontaneous and automatic, for
instance, processing of music and language, using the same skills to read different pieces of
music or text. High road transfer requires reflection and conscious processing, for instance,
adopting similar skills in solving very different kinds of problems. Some musical skills are
more likely to transfer than others. For instance, the musical skills more likely to transfer are
those concerned with perceptual processing of sound (temporal, pitch, and rule governed
grouping information), fine motor skills, emotional sensitivity, conceptions of relationships
between written materials and sound (reading music and text), and memorisation of extended
information (music and text) (Schellenberg, 2003; Norton et al., 2005).
The aim of this paper is to consider what we know about the ways that transfer can occur in
relation to the skills developed through active engagement with music and how they may
impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people.
The paper synthesises indicative research findings and considers the implications for
education.
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Perceptual and language skills
Music has long been argued to provide effective experiences for children to develop listening
skills in mainstream schools and those for children with learning difficulties (Hirt-
Mannheimer, 1995; Wolf, 1992; Humpal and Wolf, 2003). Research is now able to offer
explanations as to why this might occur. When we listen to music or speech we process an
enormous amount of information rapidly without our conscious awareness (Blakemore and
Frith, 2000). The ease with which we do this depends on our prior musical and linguistic
experiences. This knowledge is implicit, learned through exposure to particular
environments, and is applied automatically whenever we listen to music or speech. Speech
and music share some processing systems. Musical experiences which enhance processing
can therefore impact on the perception of language which in turn impacts on reading.
Musical training sharpens the brain’s early encoding of sound leading to enhanced
performance (Tallal and Gaab, 2006; Patel and Iverson, 2007) improving the ability to
distinguish between rapidly changing sounds (Gaab et al. 2005), and enhancing auditory
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discrimination (Schlaug et al.,2005). This has an impact on the cortical processing of
linguistic pitch patterns (Schon et al., 2004; Magne et al, 2006).
The influence of musical training emerges quickly. Eight year old children with just 8 weeks
of musical training differed from controls in their cortical event related potentials (ERPs)
(Moreno and Besson, 2006). Flohr et al. (2000) provided music training for 25 minutes for 7
weeks for children aged 4-6 and compared measured brain activity with controls. Those
children who had received musical training produced EEG frequencies associated with
increased cognitive processing.
Playing a musical instrument triggers changes in the brainstem not only the cortex
(Musacchia et al., 2007). Musicians have been found to have earlier brainstem responses to
the onset of a syllable than non-musicians and those playing since the age of 5 have quicker
responses and increased activity of neurons in the brain to both music and speech sounds.
Musicians also have high-functioning peripheral auditory systems. The quality of sensory
encoding is related to the amount of musical training (Wong et al., 2007).
Early studies found correlations between the performance of first grade children on tests of
phonemic and musical pitch awareness. The ability to perceive slight differences in
phonemes seemed to depend on the ability to extract information about the frequencies of the
speech sounds (Lamb and Gregory, 1993). Recent studies have confirmed that having
musical skills predicts the ability to perceive and produce subtle phonetic contrasts in a
second language (Slevc and Miyake, 2006) and the reading abilities of children in their first
language (Anvari et al., 2002). It also enhances the ability to interpret affective speech
rhythms (Thompson et al. 2004). Speech makes extensive use of structural auditory patterns
not based on pitch but timbre based differences between phonemes. Musical training seems to
develop these skills.
Studies with pre-school children have found relationships between musical skills, the
manipulation of speech sounds (Peynircioglu et al., 2002), and phonological awareness and
reading development (Anvari et al., 2002). Gromko (2005) studied kindergarten children who
received 4 months of music instruction for 30 minutes once per week. The instruction
included active music-making and kinaesthetic movements to emphasise steady beat, rhythm
and pitch as well as the association of sounds with symbols. The children who received the
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music instruction showed significantly greater gains in phonemic awareness when compared
to the control group. Learning to discriminate differences between tonal and rhythmic
patterns and to associate their perceptions with visual symbols seems to have transferred to
improved phonemic awareness.
Humans are able to recognise a melody transposed in frequency easily. This skill may be
related to its importance in spoken intonation. A listener needs to be able to hear the
similarity of intonation patterns when spoken in different pitch registers. Speech processing
requires similar processing to melodic contour and is one of the first aspects of music to be
discriminated by infants (Trehub et al., 1984). The two seem to be processed by the same
brain mechanisms (see Patel, 2009). Magne et al. (2006) compared 8 year old children who
had musical training with those who did not and found that the musicians outperformed non-
musicians on music and language tests. The study showed that in the neural basis of
development of prosodic and melodic processing pitch processing seemed to be earlier in
music than in language. The authors concluded that there were positive effects of music
lessons for linguistic abilities in children.
Overall, the evidence suggests that engagement with music plays a major role in developing
perceptual processing systems which facilitate the encoding and identification of speech
sounds and patterns, the earlier the exposure to active music participation and the greater the
length of participation the greater the impact. Transfer of these skills is automatic and
contributes not only to language development but also to literacy.
Literacy
The role of music in facilitating language skills contributes to the development of reading
skills. An early study where music instruction was specifically designed to develop auditory,
visual and motor skills in 7-8 year old students over a period of 6 months, found that the
mean reading comprehension scores of the intervention group increased while those of the
control group did not (Douglas and Willatts, 1994). Similarly, Gardiner et al. (1996) provided
children with seven months of Kodaly training alongside visual arts instruction. Their reading
scores were compared with controls and were found to have shown greater improvement.
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Phonological awareness is linked to early reading skills in 4-5 year old children (Anvari et
al., 2002) and moderate relationships have been found between tonal memory and reading
age (Barwick et al., 1989), although finding the main and subsidiary beats in a musical
selection has not been found to be a significant predictor of reading in 3
rd
and 4
th
grade
students (Chamberlain, 2003). Several studies have found no difference in reading between
children receiving musical training and controls (e.g. Lu, 1986; Montgomery, 1997; Bowles,
2003; Kemmerer, 2003), although Butzlaff (2000) in a meta-analysis of 24 studies found a
reliable relationship. While overall, the research shows a positive impact of musical
engagement on reading, differences may be explained by the nature of the children’s prior
and current musical experiences and their already developed reading skills. If language skills
are well developed already, musical activity may need to focus on reading musical notation
for transfer benefits to occur in relation to reading. There may also be other factors which
need to be taken into account. For instance, Piro and Ortiz (2009) focused on the way that
learning the piano might impact on the development of vocabulary and verbal sequencing in
second grade children. 46 children who had studied piano for 3 consecutive years participated
as part of an intervention programme, while 57 children acted as controls. At the end of the
study, the music learning group had significantly better vocabulary and verbal sequencing
scores. However, they had already been playing the piano for two years but with no
differences in reading between their skills and those of the control group. The authors
suggested a number of reasons for this: because it takes a long time for effects to be felt;
because the age of tuition is important; or because the summer holidays prior to testing may
have lowered initial their scores. There may also have been changes in the nature of the
tuition and the development of fluency in reading music which impacted on transfer. Overall,
there do seem to be benefits for engaging in musical activities in relation to reading beyond
those associated with language development but our understanding of these processes is
currently limited.
Some studies have focused on children who are experiencing difficulties with reading.
Nicholson (1972) studied students aged between 6- 8 categorised as slow learners. After
music training the experimental group exhibited significantly higher reading scores scoring in
the 88
th
percentile versus the 72 percentile. After an additional year of musical training the
reading scores of the experimental group were still superior to the control group’s scores.
Movsesian (1967) found similar results with students in grades 1, 2, and 3.
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Rhythmic performance seems to be an important factor in reading development. Atterbury
(1985) found that reading-disabled children aged 7-9 could discriminate rhythm patterns as
well as controls but were poorer in rhythm performance and tonal memory than normal-
achieving readers. Long (2007) found that very brief training (10 minutes each week for 6
weeks) in stamping, clapping and chanting in time to a piece of music while following simple
musical notation had a considerable impact on reading comprehension in children
experiencing difficulties in reading. There are also indications from a range of sources that
rhythmic training may help children experiencing dyslexia (Thomson, 1993; Overy, 2000,
2003). Overy (2003) found that children with dyslexia have difficulty with rhythmic skills
(not pitch) and that tuition focusing on rhythm had a positive effect on both phonological and
spelling skills in addition to musical abilities.
One way in which music instruction may help reading in addition to those relating to more
general perception, timing and language skills is that it increases verbal memory. Chan et al.
(1998) showed that learning to play a musical instrument enhanced the ability to remember
words. Adult musicians had enlarged left cranial temporal regions of the brain, the area
involved in processing heard information. Those participants in the study with musical
training could remember 17% more verbal information that those without musical training.
Ho et al. (2003) supported these findings in a study of 90 6-15 year old boys. Those with
music training had significantly better verbal learning and retention abilities, further, the
longer the duration of music training the better the verbal memory. A follow up study
concluded that the effect was causal. There were neuro-anatomical changes in the brains of
children who were engaged in making music.
Much less attention has been paid to the influence of active engagement with music on
writing than reading. An exception was a study where children from economically
disadvantaged homes participated in instruction which focused on the concepts of print,
singing activities and writing, The children in the experimental group showed enhanced print
concepts and pre-writing skills (Standley and Hughes, 1997). Register (2001) replicated this
work with a larger sample of 50 children. Results again showed significant gains for the
music-enhanced instruction in writing skills and print awareness.
Numeracy
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Historically, it has long been assumed that there is a strong connection between music and
mathematics (Vaughn, 2000). Musicians playing from notation are constantly required to
adopt quasi-mathematical processes to sub-divide beats and turn rhythmic notation into
sound. However, this type of activity is not related to all aspects of mathematics. Transfer is
only likely to occur when the skills required are ‘near’. This is supported by a recent study
which showed that children receiving instruction on rhythm instruments scored higher on
part-whole maths problems than those receiving piano and singing instruction (Rauscher et
al., submitted).
Research exploring the relationships between mathematics and active musical engagement
has had mixed results. For instance, Geoghegan and Mitchelmore (1996) investigated the
impact of a music program on the mathematics achievement of preschool children. The group
of children involved in musical activities scored higher on a mathematics achievement test
than the control group, although home musical background may have been a confounding
factor. Gardiner et al. (1996) researching the impact of an arts programme also found that
participating children performed better in mathematics than those who did not, those
participating the longest having the highest scores overall. A study using a national US data
base also found positive effects for engagement with music. Catterall et al. (1999) using the
NELS:88 data compared low socio-economic status students who exhibited high math
proficiency in the 12
th
grade and found that 33% were involved in instrumental music
compared with 15% who were not involved. Focusing on children learning to play an
instrument, Haley (2001) found that those who had studied an instrument prior to 4
th
grade
had higher scores in mathematics than those in other groups. However, Rafferty (2003) found
no effect of the Music Spatial-Temporal Maths Program on the mathematics achievement of
second graders. The contradictory outcomes of the research might be explained by the types
of musical activities engaged in and the length of time spent.
Addressing these issues, Cheek and Smith (1999) examined whether the type of music
training was related to mathematics achievement in 8
th
grade. Those who had two or more
years of private lessons had higher scores, while those learning keyboard instruments had
higher scores than those learning other instruments. Length of engagement were considered
by Whitehead (2001) who found that middle and high school students who were placed in
high, moderate and no treatment groups for music instruction differed in mathematics gains,
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the high involvement children showing the greatest gains. Overall, the evidence suggests that
active engagement with music can improve mathematical performance, but the nature of this
relationship, the kinds of musical training needed to realise the effect, the length of time
required and the specific types of mathematical problems which are affected need further
investigation.
Intellectual development
One of the first studies to consider the role of music in children’s intellectual development
was undertaken by Hurwitz et al. (1975). First-grade children were assigned to one of two
groups. An experimental group received Kodaly music lessons for five days each week for
seven months, a control group did not. At the end of the study, the experimental group scored
significantly higher than the control group on three of five sequencing tasks and four of five
spatial tasks. No statistically significant differences were found for verbal measures, although
the children in the experimental group had higher reading achievement scores than those in
the control group which were maintained after two academic years.
During the 1990s there was a resurgence of interest in these issues which had as a particular
focus the impact of active engagement with music on spatial reasoning, an element of
intelligence tests. In a typical study, Rauscher et al. (1997) assigned children from three pre-
school groups to music, computer or no-instruction groups. The instruction groups received
tuition in keyboard and group singing, group singing alone or computer lessons. Singing was
for 30 minutes daily. The children in the keyboard group scored significantly higher in the
spatial recognition test. Since then, several studies have confirmed that active engagement
with music has an impact on visual-spatial intelligence (Gromko and Poorman, 1998;
Bilhartz et al, 2000; Graziano et al., 1999; Orsmond and Miller, 1999; Rauscher and Zupan,
2000; Rauscher, 2002; Costa-Giomi, 1999). A review of 15 studies Hetland (2000) found a
‘strong and reliable’ relationship and concluded that music instruction leads to dramatic
improvements in performance on spatial-temporal measures. She commented on the
consistency of the effects and likened them to differences of one inch in height or about 84
points on the SAT (p 221). The consistency of these findings suggests a near transfer,
automated effect perhaps related to the skills acquired in learning to read music.
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Other research has focused on more general manifestations of intelligence. Bilhartz et al.
(2000) studied the relationship between participation in a structured music curriculum and
cognitive development in 4-6 year olds. Half of the children participated in a 30 week 75
minute weekly parent-involved music curriculum. Following this, children were tested with 6
sub-tests of the Stanford-Binet intelligence test and the Young Child Music Skills
Assessment test. There were significant gains for the music group on the music test and the
Stanford-Binet Bead Memory subtest. Adopting a cross sectional approach, Schlaug et al.
(2005) compared 9-11 year old instrumentalists with an average of 4 years training with
controls. They showed that the instrumental group performed significantly better than the
control group on musical audiation, left hand index finger tapping rate, and the vocabulary
subtest of the WISC-III. Strong non-significant trends were seen in the phonemic awareness
test, Raven’s Progressive Matrices, and the Key Math test. Schellenberg (2004) randomly
assigned a large sample of children to four different groups, two of which received music
lessons (standard keyboard, Kodaly voice) for a year, the control groups receiving instruction
in a non-musical artistic activity (drama) or no lessons. All four groups exhibited increases in
IQ as would be expected over the time period but the music groups had reliably larger
increases in full scale IQ with an effect size of .35. Children in the control groups had
average increases of 4.3 points while the music groups had increases of 7 points. On all but 2
of the 12 subtests the music group had larger increases than control groups. Catterall and
Rauscher (2008) argue that the gains seen in more general IQ are likely to be the result of
specific gains in visual-spatial intelligence but there may also be effects related to enhanced
development of language and literacy skills.
A key issue arising from this research is what kinds of musical activity bring about change in
particular kinds of intellectual development and why. The research reported above has been
based on children’s participation in a variety of musical activities, some offering a broad
musical education, others focused more closely on instrumental tuition. To begin to address
these questions, Rauscher et al. (2007) explored the impact of different types of musical
activity in at risk preschool children. Five groups received piano, singing, rhythm, computer
or no instruction for two years. The three music groups scored higher following instruction
than the control groups on mental imagery tasks but the scores of the rhythm group were
significantly higher than all other groups on tasks requiring temporal cognition and
mathematical ability. The findings from this study suggest that it is rhythmic training which
is important for the development of temporal cognition and mathematics (see Rauscher, 2009
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for further discussion), while developing enhanced perceptual skills in relation to pitch and
melody supports language development, although rhythm emerges as important in relation to
literacy. Overall, taking these findings together it would appear that active engagement with
making music can have an impact on intellectual development. What requires further
research is the specific types of musical participation which develop skills which transfer
automatically to other areas and what are the common features of these skills.
General attainment
Most of the research examining the relationship between general achievement and active
engagement with music has been based on correlations. Evidence from the USA has shown
that students who participate in music education do better than their peers on many measures
of academic achievement. Using data relating to over 13,000 students from the National
Centre for Educational Statistics, Morrison (1994) reported that high school students who
participated in music reported higher grades in English, math, history, and science than those
who did not participate. Johnson and Memmott (2006) studied 4,739 elementary and middle
school students in 4 regions of the USA and revealed a strong relationship between
elementary (3
rd
and 4
th
grade) students’ academic achievement as measured by test scores and
their participation in high-quality music programmes. Similar effects were found by Trent
(1996) and Cararelli (2003), although Schneider and Klotz (2000) comparing enrolment in
music performance classes or athletic extracurricular activities and academic achievement
found that all groups were equivalent in the 5
th
and 6
th
grade but during the 7th, 8th and 9
th
grades the musicians achieved significantly higher academic achievement scores than the
athletes but not than the non-participant controls. Several literature reviews support the
overall trend of these findings (see Arnett-Gary, 1998; Shobo, 2001; Yoon, 2000) and
Hodges and O’Connell (2007) further point out that being excused from non-music classes to
attend instrumental lessons does not adversely affect academic performance.
One of the difficulties with this research, however, is that participating in musical activities
may be related to other factors which promote academic attainment, for instance, having
supportive parents and a home environment conducive to studying. A recent study, adopting
more complex and sensitive statistical modelling (Southgate and Roscigno, 2009) using
national data sets was able to overcome the difficulties experienced by early correlational
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studies. Three measures of music participation were used: in school, outside school and
parental involvement in the form of concert attendance. Two nationally representative data
sources ECLS-K (20,000 US kindergarten students) and NELS:88 (25,000 adolescents) were
used. Music involvement was found to vary systematically by class and gender status, and
such involvement had implications for both mathematics and reading achievement and for
young children and adolescents. However, associations between music and achievement
persisted even when prior achievement was taken into account. There was evidence of social
class variation in within-school music involvement in adolescents but not in early childhood,
while the effects of class on parental music involvement were strong and consistent in both
samples. Southgate and Roscigno suggested that this was likely to be related to resource
issues. As a mediator of educational outcomes music involvement was significant for both
mathematics and reading achievement. It generally increased achievement levels although
gains were not distributed equally among all students, a white student advantage existed. This
may relate to the type of musical activity engaged in and the opportunities afforded the
students for performance which may contribute to enhanced self-esteem and increased
motivation.
Of the experimental studies that have been carried out on the effects of participation in music
on general attainment, two indicated a positive effect (Barr et al., 2002; Hoffman, 1995),
while Hines (2000), studying students with learning difficulties from kindergarten through to
9
th
grade found neither reading or mathematics achievement were affected by type of music
instruction, motoric or non-motoric. Legette (1993) also found no effect of music instruction.
Overall academic attainment depends on the development of literacy and numeracy skills
which have been discussed earlier. Motivation is also crucial in how well children perform at
school. Motivation is closely linked to self-perceptions of ability, self-efficacy and
aspirations (Hallam, 2005). If active engagement with music increases positive perceptions of
self, this may transfer to other areas of study and increase motivation to persist. This may
account for some of the conflicting evidence relating to general attainment and will be
discussed later.
Creativity
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Researchers have paid less attention to the impact of music on creativity than other types of
learning. Simpson (1969) studying 173 high school music and 45 non-music students found
that the music students scored higher on several elements of the Guildford’s tests of
creativity. Wolff (1979) studied the effects of 30 minutes of daily music instruction for an
entire year on first graders. Those participating exhibited significant increases in creativity
and in perceptual motor skills compared with controls. Kalmar (1982) studied the effects of
singing and musical group play twice weekly for three years on pre-school children of 3-4
years of age and found that these children scored higher than controls on creativity, had
higher levels of abstraction, and showed greater creativity in improvised puppet play. They
also demonstrated better motor development. High school and university music students
scored higher on tests of creativity than none music majors, this being particularly marked in
those with more than 10 years of music education (Hamann et al., 1990). A further study
compared music students with those whose experiences included theatrical and visual arts.
The music students exhibited greater creativity than controls but no effects were found for the
visual arts. The greater the number of units of music classes the greater the creativity
(Hamann et al., 1991). Other major national reports on the arts have emphasised their
importance in developing a range of transferable skills including those related to creativity
and critical thinking (NACCCE, 1999).
The development of creative skills is likely to be particularly dependent on the type of
musical engagement. This is supported by recent work. Koutsoupidou and Hargreaves (2009)
studied 6 year olds comparing those who had opportunities for musical improvisation with
those where music lessons provided no opportunities for creativity. Performance on
Webster’s measures of Creative Thinking in Music assessed change in extensiveness,
flexibility, originality, and syntax. The improvisation activities significantly supported the
development of creative thinking as opposed to the didactic teaching. To enhance creativity
music lessons may need to be based on creative activities. This is an area where further
research is required.
Social and personal development
Research on the impact of participation in music on social and personal development tends to
be based on self-report, either questionnaires or interviews. It has received less attention than
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the impact on intellectual development and attainment, despite the fact that the effects on
achievement may in part be mediated by an increase in social and cultural capital. For
instance, Broh (2002) showed that students who participated in musical activities talked more
with parents and teachers, and their parents were more likely to talk with friends’ parents.
She concluded that these social benefits were likely to lead to higher self-esteem in the
children in turn leading to increased motivation and self-efficacy. A study by the Norwegian
Research Council for Science and Humanities supported this finding a connection between
having musical competence and high motivation which led to a greater likelihood of success
in school (Lillemyr, 1983). There were high correlations between positive self-perception,
cognitive competence score, self-esteem, and interest and involvement in school music.
Whitwell (1977) drew similar conclusions and argued that creative participation in music
improves self-image, self-awareness, and creates positive self-attitudes. Similar findings have
been found with urban black middle school students (Marshall, 1978) and children of low
economic status (Costa-Giomi, 1999). It would appear that success in music can enhance
overall feelings of confidence and self-esteem increasing motivation for study more
generally.
Research in Switzerland showed that increasing the amount of classroom music within the
curriculum did not have a detrimental effect on language and reading skills despite a
reduction in time in these lessons (Spychiger, et al., 1993; Zulauf, 1993) and there was an
increase in social cohesion within class, greater self-reliance, better social adjustment and
more positive attitudes in the children. These effects were particularly marked in low ability,
disaffected pupils (Spychiger, et al., 1993). Harland (2000) showed that the most frequent
overall influences on pupils derived from engagement with the arts in school were related to
personal and social development. In music there were perceived effects relating to awareness
of others, social skills, well-being and transfer effects. Variations in response between
schools related to the degree of musical knowledge and experience that the pupils brought to
the school curriculum. Some students perceived the benefits of music classes in being
listening to music and the development of musical skills while others referred to the sheer fun
and therapeutic nature of music, how it gave them confidence to perform in front of others,
how it facilitated group work and how it enabled them to learn to express themselves. Those
who played instruments mentioned an increase in self-esteem and sense of identity. Tolfree
and Hallam (in preparation) also reported a sense of achievement, increased confidence and
the provision of an alternative means of communicating feelings for children aged 9-17 in
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relation to playing an instrument. They also spoke of enjoying playing with friends and the
frustrations that they felt when practising alone when they were unable to get things right.
Two studies researched the perceived benefits of school band participation in the USA. The
benefits included accomplishment, appreciation, discipline, fun, active participation and
maturing relationships (Brown 1980). 95% of parents of non-band participants believed that
band provided educational benefits not found in other classrooms and 78% agreed that band
was more educational than extra-curricular. Band directors talked in general terms about the
benefits of discipline, teamwork, co-ordination, development of skills, pride, lifetime skills,
accomplishment, cooperation, self-confidence, sense of belonging, responsibility, self-
expression, creativity, performance, companionship, building character and personality,
improving self-esteem, social development and enjoyment. In a follow up study (Brown,
1985), 91% of non-band parents, 79% of non-band students, 90% of drop-out band parents
and 82% of drop out band students agreed that participating in a band builds self-esteem, self
confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Similarly, in the UK, peripatetic instrumental
teachers working in schools reported considerable benefits of learning to play an instrument
including the development of social skills; gaining a love and enjoyment of music;
developing team-work; developing a sense of achievement, confidence and self-discipline;
and developing physical co-ordination (Hallam and Prince, 2000).
Being involved in the extra-curricular rehearsal and performance of a school show has been
shown to facilitate the development of friendships with like-minded individuals and make a
contribution to social life through a widespread awareness of the show by non-participants
(Pitts, 2007). Such participation increased pupils’ confidence, social networks and sense of
belonging, despite the time commitment which inevitably impinged on other activities.
Research in the USA has also shown that involvement in group music activities in the high
school helps individuals learn to support each other, maintain commitment and bond together
for group goals (Sward, 1989). Reflecting on previous and current group music making
activities, university music students reported benefits in terms of pride in being an active
contributor to a group outcome, developing a strong sense of belonging, gaining popularity
and making friends with ‘like-minded’ people, enhancement of social skills, and the
development of a strong sense of self-esteem and satisfaction. Students also reported
enhanced personal skills facilitating the students’ personal identity and encouraging the
development of self-achievement, self-confidence and intrinsic motivation. A further study
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with non-music students who had previously participated in musical groups established
similar benefits but there was a greater preoccupation with the impact of group music making
on the self and personal development. Students reported that active involvement in music
helped them develop life skills such as discipline and concentration and provided an outlet for
relaxation during demanding study periods (Kokotsaki and Hallam, 2007; in preparation). In
a study of 84 members of a college choral society, 87% indicated that they had benefitted
socially, 75% emotionally, and 49% spiritually. Meeting new people, feeling more positive,
and being uplifted spiritually were all referred to (Clift and Hancox, 2001).
Within small musical groups the social relationships and the development of trust and respect
are crucial for their functioning (Davidson and Good, 2002; Young and Colman, 1979). For
long-term success rehearsals have to be underpinned by strong social frameworks as
interactions are typically characterised by conflict and compromise related mainly to musical
content and its co-ordination, although some interactions are of a more personal nature (e.g.
approval). (Young and Colman, 1979; Murningham and Conlon, 1991) The smaller the group
the more important personal friendship seems to be.
In adolescence, music makes a major contribution to the development of self-identity.
Teenagers listen to a great deal of music (Hodges and Haack, 1996). In the UK, typically
almost three hours a day (North et al., 2000). They do this to pass time, alleviate boredom,
relieve tension, and distract themselves from worries (North et al., 2000; Zillman and Gan,
1997; Tolfree and Hallam, in preparation). Music is seen as a source of support when young
people are feeling troubled or lonely, acting as a mood regulator, helping to maintain a sense
of belonging and community (Zillman and Gan, 1997). Its affect on moods at this time can be
profound (Goldstein, 1980). It is also used in relation to impression management needs. By
engaging in social comparisons adolescents are able to portray their own peer groups more
positively than other groups in their network and are thus able to sustain positive self-
evaluations. Music facilitates this process (Tarrant et al., 2000).
In addition to developing personal and social skills, music may also have the capacity to
increase emotional sensitivity. Resnisow et al. (2004) found that there was a relationship
between the ability to recognise emotions in performances of classical piano music and
measures of emotional intelligence which required individuals to identify, understand, reason
with and manage emotions using hypothetical scenarios. The two were significantly
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correlated which suggests that identification of emotion in music performance draws on some
of the same skills that make up everyday emotional intelligence.
While it is clear from the research outlined above that music can have very positive effects on
personal and social development, it must be remembered that the research has largely focused
on those currently participating in active music making not taking account of those who have
not found it an enjoyable and rewarding experience. The quality of the teaching, the extent to
which individuals experience success, whether engaging with a particular type of music can
be integrated with existing self-perceptions, and whether overall it is a positive experience
will all contribute to whether there is a positive impact on social and personal development.
Physical development, health and wellbeing
Recent concerns about health and well-being in populations have led to an increase in
research exploring the impact of the arts and music. Some work has focused in particular on
physical development in children, some on more general issues concerned with well-being.
Research has established that using rhythmic accompaniment to support physical education
programmes improves performance. Anshel and Marisi (1978) observed positive results in
performance accuracy and endurance when music was rhythmically synchronised with motor
performance and Painter (1966) found similar results. Beisman (1967) found that throwing,
catching, jumping and leaping improved when children participated in a programme
involving rhythm, while Brown et al. (1981) also found that an integrated music and PE
programme improved pre-schoolers motor performance more than movement exploration.
Derri et al. (2001) investigated the effect of a 10 week music and movement programme on
the quality of locomotor performance in children of 4-6 years and found that the experimental
group improved on galloping, leaping, horizontal jump and skipping. A further study showed
that the programme compared favourably with free play activities (Deli et al., 2006). There is
also evidence that learning to play an instrument improves fine motor skills (Schlaug et al.,
2005).
There has recently been a surge of interest in the specific benefits of singing to health and
well-being. Almost all of this research has been carried out with adults an exception being the
work of Ashley (2002) who studied choir boys aged 10-14 singing in a major city centre
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parish church. The boys showed deep appreciation of and engagement with music and
exhibited many aspects of personal wellbeing including the social competence to combat a
macho male culture. In a study of young people who were members of a university choir,
Clift and Hancox (2001) found that 58% reported having benefited in some physical way,
84% responding positively in relation to health benefits mainly referring to lung function,
breathing, improved mood, and stress reduction. Further analysis identified 6 dimensions
associated with the benefits of singing – well-being and relaxation, benefits for breathing and
posture, social benefits, spiritual benefits, emotional benefits, and benefits for heart and
immune system (Clift and Hancox, 2001). In a review of the literature, Clift et al. (2008)
considered five studies which had used the immune system marker salivary immunoglobulin
as a measure of the immune system’s effectiveness. Four reported increase in this antibody
associated with singing (Kreutz et al, 2004; Kuhn, 2002; Beck et al., 2000; 2006).
Reviews of the research with adult singers have concluded that there are a range of health and
well-being benefits of participating in a choir. There is every reason to suppose that these
benefits would also apply to children. The benefits include: physical relaxation and release of
physical tension; emotional release and reduction of feelings of stress; a sense of happiness,
positive mood, joy, elation, and feeling high; a sense of greater personal, emotional and
physical well-being; an increased sense of arousal and energy; stimulation of cognitive
capacities – attention, concentration, memory and learning; an increased sense of self-
confidence and self-esteem; a sense of therapeutic benefit in relation to long-standing
psychological and social problems; a sense of exercising systems of the body through the
physical exertion involved, especially the lungs; a sense of disciplining the skeletal-muscular
system through the adoption of good posture; being engaged in a valued , meaningful
worthwhile activity that gives a sense of purpose and motivation (Clift et al, 2008; Stacey et
al., 2002).
Studies of adults have shown other physical benefits of engaging with music. Playing the
piano exercises the heart as much as a brisk walk (Parr, 1985) and there are lower mortality
rates in those who attend cultural events, read books or periodicals, make music, or sing in a
choir (Bygren, Konlaan & Johnansson, 1996; Konlaan, Bygren and Johansson, 2000;
Johansson, Konlaan and Bygren, 2001; Hyyppa and Maki, 2001). Music making has also
been shown to contribute to perceived good health, quality of life, and mental well-being
(Coffman and Adamek, 1999; Vanderark et al, 1983; Wise et al., 1992; Kahn, 1998).
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Endnote
This overview provides a strong case for the benefits of active engagement with music
throughout the lifespan. In early childhood there seem to be benefits for the development of
perceptual skills which effect learning language subsequently impacting on literacy which is
also enhanced by opportunities to develop rhythmic co-ordination. Fine motor co-ordination
is improved through learning to play an instrument. Music also seems to improve spatial
reasoning, one aspect of general intelligence which is related to some of the skills required in
mathematics. While general attainment is clearly affected by literacy and numeracy skills,
motivation which depends on self-esteem, self-efficacy and aspirations is also important in
the amount of effort given to studying. Engagement with music can enhance self-perceptions
but only if it provides positive learning experiences which are rewarding. This means that
musical experiences need to be enjoyable providing challenges which are also attainable.
Teaching needs to generate an environment which is supportive and sufficiently flexible to
facilitate the development of creativity and self-expression. Group music making is also
beneficial to the development of social skills and can contribute to health and well-being
throughout the lifespan and can therefore contribute to community cohesion providing
benefits to society as a whole.
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