In two Stanford University studies, researchers have demonstrated how important split-second processing of sounds is to speaking and reading. Researchers have learned that mastering a musical instrument improves the way the human brain processes parts of spoken language. Research findings indicate that:

  • People with musical experience found it easier than non-musicians to detect small differences in word syllables
  • They also noted that musical training helps the brain work more efficiently in distinguishing differences between rapidly changing sounds that are essential to processing language
  • Musical training increases perception of sound pitches and verbal memory

Potential applications of the research are:

  • Improving speech processing in children stuggling with language and reading skills
  • Assisting seniors experiencing a decline in speech perception and verbal memory skills
  • Assisting people learning a second language
  • Improving the acoustic and phonetic skills needed for learning language and reading

The National Association for Music Education notes a broad range of benefits to students who have access to music education:

  • Secondary students who participated in band or orchestra reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances (alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs)
  • Many colleges view participation in the arts and music as a valuable experience that broadens students’ understanding and appreciation of the world around them
  • Schools with music programs have significantly higher graduation rates than do those without programs (90.2 percent as compared to 72.9 percent)
  • Students in high-quality school music programs score higher on standardized tests compared to students in schools with deficient music education programs
  • Students of music outperform non-arts students on the SAT
  • Nearly 100 percent of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science, and Technology (for high school students) play one or more musical instruments
  • Children in music training had significantly better verbal memory than students without such training
  • Young children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year
  • Playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem’s sensitivity to speech sounds

Read the report…

Unfortunately, current educational policy contributes to widening the achievement and college enrollment gaps between our children. Children from low-performing and low-income communities have less access to musical training, and instead attend schools oftentimes focused almost exclusively on raising test scores. In contrast, children from upper income communities, or who attend high-performing schools, are exposed to a broad range of vocal and instrumental music training. Subsequently, such children, through enhanced musical exposure, develop the cognitive, verbal, and memory skills that enable them to achieve higher test scores without having a specific focus on increasing test scores. Their resulting higher test scores, higher academic skills, and broader cultural and artistic exposure significantly expand their college and career options.

Our younger son has enjoyed learning to play the piano and guitar, although he did not begin formal lessons until the ninth grade for guitar and the tenth grade for piano. His tenth grade piano recital of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 17 in D minor Movement 3 “Tempest,” is a wonderful example of that adage, “It’s never too late.”

For those parents and students who find themselves stuck in low-performing schools or in schools with limited access to music programs, consider exploring opportunities through the music ministry at local faith organizations, after school programs, and summer camps.