Brain and music

Music lessons improve children’s cognitive skills and academic performance

The first large-scale, longitudinal study of its type in the Netherlands has found that structured music lessons significantly enhance children’s cognitive abilities – particularly around inhibition, planning and verbal intelligence and therefore their academic achievement. The study involved 147 primary school children over two-and-a-half years.

“Despite indications that music has beneficial effects on cognition, music is disappearing from general education curricula,” says Dr Artur Jaschke, from VU University of Amsterdam, who led the study with Dr Henkjan Honing and Dr Erik Scherder. “This inspired us to initiate a long-term study on the possible effects of music education on cognitive skills that may underlie academic achievement.”

The goal was to examine whether structured music lessons can affect executive sub-functions that may underlie academic achievement.  They used a structured musical method developed by the Ministry of Research and Education in the Netherlands together with an expert centre for arts education. Participants were grouped into: two music intervention groups, one active visual arts group, and a no arts control group. Neuropsychological tests assessed verbal intelligence and executive functions and a national pupil monitor provided data on academic performance.

At the end of the study, the children’s academic performance was assessed, as well as various cognitive skills . The researchers found that children who received music lessons had significant cognitive improvements compared to all other children in the study. The test scores on inhibition, planning and verbal intelligence show that these children perform better on these tasks when compared with controls, and these measures increased significantly in the music groups over time.

The researchers hope their work will contribute to highlighting the importance of the music and arts in human culture and cognitive development. “Both music and arts classes are supposed to be applied throughout all Dutch primary schools by the year 2020,” says Dr Jaschke. “But considering our results, we hope that this study will support political developments to reintegrate music and arts education into schools around the world.”

Brain image (edited) from Pixabay, reproduced under Creative Commons CC0.

Science Daily:
Medical Daily:


DATE: 2018


  1. Thank you very mach for your link. I have a dougther and she is 6 yers old and she is not tolking yet. Probably music kan help her. Thank you a lot!❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I practiced music therapy for 12 years and my favorite part of the job was helping children with speech delays in co-treatment with a speech and language pathologist. Melodic Intonation Therapy combined with the expertise of the SLP not only produced great results but was a therapy day that everyone looked forward to!


  2. I thought it was really interesting that children who took music lessons performed on a higher level when tested on verbal intelligence. Do you think learning music could help one learn a foreign language? My friend has been having such a hard time learning Spanish, but is very adept at choir, so I’m curious to know.


    1. Thanks for commenting Bethany. That’s an interesting take on the music education / language skills debate! The research has been all around children, with some work around teenagers as their brains go through a ‘plastic’ phase, but I’ve not heard of any research about adults and improved language skills – although music does help people memorise things (eg see here so I’d say if your friend could combine both that would help!


  3. Seems as though math skills would also improve. Music is really a mathematical study. Great way to teach fractions !


  4. Of course one can use music to teach different languages . I teach music (fs1-year 2 ) in a international school in Dubai . I espoecially incorporate songs from all over the world to teach them a bit of the language . I also have hearrd tthe arabic teacher for instance use a song to teach her students the arabic alphabet .


    1. Thanks Dorette – yes music can be used in all sorts of teaching, from Maths to Geography to Languages. Nice to hear how you use it in your school, thanks.


      1. students are adult learners of tesol… migrants and refugees to Australia… and singing has do many benefits, as well as improving speaking skills and memory singing enhances general wellbeing.


  5. This is 100℅ true. As a music director, performer and advocate for talent development in Uganda/Africa with a view of changing lives, I have discovered that Music at an early age helps to develop ones character, composure and reasoning abilities in relation to language based reasoning in any field or area of specialty. Therefore, without music, this world would be a total mess.


  6. Generally speaking, we have known the value of music education for all children for decades. The question is “When and how are we going to get it into the heads of those who control money and the administrative decision making?????


  7. I teach norteño Music on guitar, accordion , saxophone, clarinet, and bass guitar to children from the second grade all the way to high school seniors. Many of these children don’t know how to talk English and are in primary school . They pick up the English songs and the Spanish songs and note reading at the same time. They arrive so shy and always leave me as gregarious successful musicians.


  8. Thank you, research looks good and the answers back up what music teachers and parents see and believe! Could I suggest that in the summary at the end….number involved should be 147 schools or the student number. That’s a really important aspect of this research.


    1. Thanks Debra – the evidence base is certainly there! It’s often the way schools are required to evidence/measure their performance that’s the problem … I’m always hopeful that things will change. There are glimmers … eg the PISA tests including creativity at long last! But we have a long way to go, certainly in the UK where we’re based.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s