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Kids’ music practice may pay off in other skills

Nov. 5, 2008
Courtesy PLoS One
and World Science staff

Chil­dren who study a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment for at least three years out­per­form oth­er chil­dren even in non-mu­si­cal skills, a study has found.

The young mu­si­cians were found to ex­cel in tests meas­ur­ing ver­bal abil­ity and vis­u­al pat­tern com­ple­tion.

Chil­dren who study a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment for at least three years out­per­form oth­er chil­dren even in non-mu­si­cal skills, a stu­dy has found. (Pho­to cour­tesy stock.xchng)


The Har­vard Uni­ver­s­ity-based study was pub­lished Oc­to­ber 29 in the on­line re­search jour­nal PLoS One. In it, 41 eight- to ele­ven-year-olds who had stud­ied ei­ther pia­no or a string in­stru­ment for at least three years were com­pared to 18 chil­dren with­out in­stru­mental train­ing. 

Chil­dren in both groups spent 30-40 min­utes per week in gen­er­al mu­sic clas­ses at school. But those in the in­stru­mental group al­so re­ceived pri­vate les­sons learn­ing an in­stru­ment, av­er­ag­ing 45 min­utes per week, and spent ad­di­tion­al time prac­tic­ing at home.

It was no sur­prise that the young mu­si­cians scored sig­nif­i­cantly high­er than those in the con­trol group on two skills closely re­lat­ed to their mu­sic train­ing, in­clud­ing au­di­to­ry dis­crimina­t­ion and fin­ger dex­ter­ity, the re­search­ers said.

The more sur­pris­ing re­sult, they added, was that they al­so scored high­er in two skills that ap­pear un­re­lat­ed to mu­sic—ver­bal abil­ity, as meas­ured by a vo­cab­u­lary IQ test, and vis­u­al pat­tern com­ple­tion. Fur­ther­more, they found, the long­er and more in­tensely the child had stud­ied his or her in­stru­ment, the bet­ter he or she scored on these tests.

More stud­ies ex­am­in­ing the caus­al rela­t­ion­ships be­tween in­stru­mental mu­sic train­ing, prac­tice in­tens­ity, and cog­ni­tive en­hance­ments are needed, said the Har­vard re­search­ers, Gott­fried Schlaug and El­len Win­ner.


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Children who study a musical instrument for at least three years outperform other children even in non-musical skills, a study has found. The young musicians were found to excel in tests measuring verbal ability and visual pattern completion. The Harvard University-based study was published October 29 in the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE. In the study, 41 eight- to eleven-year-olds who had studied either piano or a string instrument for at least three years were compared to 18 children without instrumental training. Children in both groups spent 30-40 minutes per week in general music classes at school. But those in the instrumental group also received private lessons learning an instrument, averaging 45 minutes per week, and spent additional time practicing at home. It was no surprise that the young musicians scored significantly higher than those in the control group on two skills closely related to their music training, including auditory discrimination and finger dexterity, the researchers said. The more surprising result, they added, was that they also scored higher in two skills that appear unrelated to music—verbal ability, as measured by a vocabulary IQ test, and visual pattern completion. Furthermore, they found, the longer and more intensely the child had studied his or her instrument, the better he or she scored on these tests. More studies examining the causal relationships between instrumental music training, practice intensity, and cognitive enhancements are needed, said the Harvard researchers, Gottfried Schlaug and Ellen Winner.