|Sorry, Kids, Piano Lessons Make You
E.J. Mundell for HealthDayNews
Scales today, Harvard tomorrow?
It's sure to be music to parents' ears: After nine months of weekly training
in piano or voice, new research shows young students' IQs rose nearly three
points more than their untrained peers.
The Canadian study lends support to the idea that musical training may do
more for kids than simply teach them their scales--it exercises parts of
the brain useful in mathematics, spatial intelligence and other intellectual
"With music lessons, because there are so many different facets involved--such
as memorizing, expressing emotion, learning about musical interval and chords--the
multidimensional nature of the experience may be motivating the [IQ] effect," said
study author E. Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto at Mississauga.
A decade ago, researchers led by the University of Wisconsin's Frances Rauscher
found that simply listening to Mozart triggered temporary increases in spatial
While the "Mozart Effect" has proven difficult to replicate in
subsequent studies, the idea that music or musical training might raise IQ
took hold in the scientific community.
In his study, slated for publication in the August issue of Psychological
Science, Schellenberg offered 12 Toronto-area 6-year-olds free weekly voice
or piano for beginners lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Music, described by Schellenberg
as Canada's "most prestigious music conservatory."
He chose 6-year-olds because their developing brains still retain a large
degree of "plasticity," defined as "the ability of the brain
to change and adapt to environmental stimuli."
On the other hand, children younger than 6 were deemed less suitable "because
you also want the lessons to be rigorous enough, and you can't really start
serious musical training with 4-year-olds," he said.
Schellenberg also wanted to separate out the effect on IQ of training in
music per se, from that of training in the arts in general. To do this, he
provided a third group of 6-year-olds with free, weekly drama classes. A
fourth group of 6-year-olds received no classes during the study period.
The children's IQs were tested beforehand using the full Weschler intelligence
test, which assesses various aspects of intellectual function in ten separate
areas. All of the children, Schellenberg explained, "came into my lab
in the summer before first grade and they had the entire test, which takes
about three hours."
Following that initial assessment, the children "went off to first
grade and to the four different groups that they were assigned. Then, in
between first and second grade, they came back to the lab and were retested."
At the time of retesting, all of the students--even those not enrolled in
music or drama classes--displayed increases in IQ of at least 4.3 points,
on average, Schellenberg said. "That's just a common consequence of
going to school," he said.
Focusing first on the children taking the drama class, Schellenberg found
they "didn't differ [in increased IQ] from those in the no-lessons group." However,
kids taking the acting class did tend to score higher on aspects of sociability
than other children, probably due to the cooperative nature of putting on
The only added boost to IQ came to kids taught either piano or voice. According
to Schellenberg, children in the music groups "had slightly larger increases
in IQ than the control groups," averaging 7-point gains in their IQ
scores from the previous year--2.7 points higher than children placed in
either the drama or no-lessons group.
This increase in IQ is considered small but significant, and was evident
across the broad spectrum of intelligence measured by the Weschler test,
Commenting on the study, Rauscher said, "It certainly supports a lot
of the research that we've done in the past." The Canadian researcher's
results deviate from her own, she said, "in that they found this effect
for general intelligence."
Rauscher's work has tended to focus on music's effects on spatial intelligence--the
ability to think through three-dimensional puzzles without resorting to an
Although it remains a theory, she speculated that "understanding music,
particularly learning to translate musical symbols into sound, might be transferring
to other abilities, because they are sharing similar neuro pathways."
Both Schellenberg and Rauscher agreed that, ideally, music lessons should
be available to children as part of their education.
"We don't have any evidence that music is unique in this regard," Schellenberg
said, "but on the other hand, it's certainly not bad for you. Our studies
suggest that extracurricular activities are indeed enriching to development."
Unfortunately, adults who might feel emboldened to pick up the guitar or
stretch their vocal skills may not receive the same boost to brainpower.
"I really think you'll find the strongest effects for young children," Rauscher
said. "That's not to say that you won't find anything in adults, but
I think it would be a lot harder and would really take a lot longer."
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