It is an anomaly that while music is undermined in our public schools
as a legitimate subject for serious study, there is a rise in the
body of research demonstrating that music is a valuable tool for
educators. Those who consider music to be an extra-curricular activity
unworthy of inclusion as a core subject are overlooking the unique
qualities that music instruction provides to all children. It is
the purpose of this article to provide educators with further ammunition
in the war to keep music in the public schools.
The work discussed below is being carried out at the University
of California at Irvine, under the direction of myself and Dr. Gordon
Shaw. The work was motivated by a structured neuronal model of the
cerebral cortex developed by Drs. Shaw and Xiaodan Leng, which hypothesized
a causal connection between music training and spatial ability (Leng
and Shaw, 1991). Music activity, they proposed, strengthens neural
firing patterns organized in a spatial-temporal code over large regions
of the cortex. These firing patterns are also exploited by spatial
reasoning tasks. This model, together with studies which show correlations
between music training and spatial tasks, led to the following prediction:
Music, which is cross-culturally appreciated from birth, can be used
to develop these inherent brain patterns, along with their associated
A small pilot study conducted in 1993 provided the first supporting
behavioral data. Ten preschoolers’ spatial abilities improved
after music training (Rauscher, Shaw, Levine & Wright, 1993).
Several further studies continue to support the model. Music, then,
may be an important element of human intelligence.
To discover the relationship between music and other reasoning abilities,
scientists employ several methods. Two of the most popular approaches
are 1) gathering physiological data using brain imaging techniques
(EEG, MRI, PET) to map the brain areas that may be common to musical
reasoning and other abilities, and 2) gathering behavioral data to
support or disprove a model of music and intelligence. The most information,
of course, will come from a combination of both techniques.
In 1992-1993, a pilot study found that a small group of preschoolers
provided with several months of music training scored significantly
higher on a task designed to measure spatial-temporal reasoning than
was expected by population norms (Rauscher, Shaw, Levine & Wright,
1993). Two schools participated in the study: a middle-income school
and a school for at-risk children. Although the effect was significant
for both schools, the at-risk school children improved dramatically-by
This was followed in 1993 by a study designed to determine if merely
listening to music might improve spatial IQ. We found that college
students who listened to ten minutes of Mozart’s Sonata for
Two Pianos (K44S) scored 8-9 points higher on tasks designed to measure
spatial IQ than when they listened to ten minutes of either self-hypnosis
relaxation instructions or silence (Rauscher, Shaw & Ky, 1993).
This effect, however, was temporary. It lasted only 10-15 minutes.
In 1994 we replicated this study, and again found that spatial-temporal
reasoning improved after listening to the Mozart Sonata (Rauscher,
Shaw & Ky, 1993). Daily exposure to the Mozart produced daily
increases in scores. This enhancing effect does not, however, apply
to all styles of composition or to all domains of intelligence. Unlike
Mozart’s music, listening to Phillip Glass’ minimalist
music did not enhance spatial-temporal reasoning. Further, the students’ scores
on a short-term memory task did not improve after listening to the
Mozart versus silence.
Although the “Mozart effect” is very intriguing, and
holds great promise for further explorations into the transfer of
musical processing to other domains of reasoning, the effect’s
limitations suggest that merely listening to music is probably not
sufficient for lasting enhancement of spatial-temporal intelligence.
Listening to music is a passive experience for most people, and does
not require the involvement that actively making music does. This
observation, together with the predictions of the Leng and Shaw model
and the long-term effects shown by the music training pilot study,
led us to suspect that actively making music has greater benefits
for spatial temporal intelligence than merely listening to music.
Last year, we replicated the pilot study with a larger group of
preschoolers, 19 who were provided with music lessons and 14 who
were not (Rauscher, Shaw, Levine, Ky & Wright, 1994). The lessons
consisted of 10-15 minute private keyboard instruction, 30-minute
daily group singing lessons, and daily supervised keyboard practice
periods. Instruction was not confined to Classical Western music.
The children played and sang the music of several different cultures,
nationalities and styles.
Using a standardized spatial reasoning IQ test (Wechsler, 1989),
we tested all the children’s spatial skills at the start of
the study and again 8 months later. As with our previous preschool
studies, the tasks were taken from an age-standardized IQ test, and
included one task with six items designed to measure spatial-temporal
reasoning (The Object Assembly task), and four tasks of items designed
to measure spatial-logical reasoning (Wechsler, 1989). Spatial-temporal
operations are responsible for combining separate elements of an
object into a single whole, or by arranging objects in a specific
spatial order. Their fundamental aspect is the ability to establish
spatial-temporal continuity among the elements (Nicolopoulou, 1988).
Spatial-temporal operations, then, require successive steps, each
step somewhat dependent upon previous ones. The Object Assembly task,
designed to measure this ability, thus required the child to assemble
cardboard puzzle pieces to create a familiar object, such as a dog
or a bouquet of flowers. Spatial-logical operations, in contrast,
require recognition of similarities or differences among objects,
and is generally a one-step process (ibid.). For example, the child
asked to classify objects according to their color or shape would
be performing a spatial-logical operation. Based on the Leng and
Shaw model and our previous work, we predicted that music training
would increase spatial-temporal task scores, but would not affect
the children’s scores on the spatial-logical tasks.
Recommendations and Closing Comments
These studies suggests a causal relationship between music and spatial
task performance. By demonstrating that music improves the intellectual
functioning of all children, we have shown that music education is
essential for optimal cognitive development. If we do not provide
adequate opportunities for our children to learn and participate
in music, we are depriving them of a great resource. School funding
for the arts is used primarily to produce performances by talented
and interested students for the enjoyment of parents and the community.
It is not used to help young people who may not have musical talent
reach their full potentials. This a tragedy for both the individual
and the nation.
If music is to become a basic part of education, those responsible
for our educational systems must become convinced of its educational,
as well as its artistic worth. They must be convinced that music
is as essential to a satisfactory education as are English, math
and science. It is ironic and perhaps unfortunate that we may be
forced to resort to science to show the value of music to education.
The point must be made that the data from this research in no way
takes away from the value of studying music for the beauty and expression
it offers in and of itself. This work does not diminish music as
an art, but rather it increases the status of music as an educational
tool. Music education is essential for all students, not just the
gifted and talented, and therefore all educators must understand
that providing music education is a fundamental part of their responsibility.