The Value of Music Education in Elementary School

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Music is a valuable part of any well-rounded education. While many studies on music’s benefits focus on their association with higher SAT scores in college or student involvement in middle school, the perks of a music education can actually begin much earlier. Students in elementary school exhibit a broad range of benefits from access to an early music education. From math and science to reading and beyond, children perform better in nearly every area when there’s music in the school.

Young students sing on stage.
Image via Flickr by pcutler

Priming the Student for a Lifetime of Learning

Music education helps students hone important skills that will make them better learners for the rest of their lives. Obtaining these skills early will help elementary students build a strong foundation for their future. The simple skill of attentiveness, which helps young students focus, listen, and stay on task, is better in those who receive early childhood training in instrumental music. Music students also exhibit greater perseverance, which helps them continue pushing forward with a difficult task, even in the face of adversity.

The working memory, or the ability to retain and manipulate important information, is stronger in musicians. Those who practice music perform better at memory and recall tasks. Practicing music also improves abstract reasoning, which helps students apply their knowledge and visualize different solutions.

Coordinating Multiple Skill Sets

Music educators encourage their students to call on multiple skill sets in each lesson. Learners must maintain rhythm, listen to those around them, look at written music, and manipulate an instrument or their voice. This calls on their eyes, ears, and muscles all at once, teaching students how to integrate these skill sets. Kenneth Guilmartin, co-founder of the Music Together early childhood music program, points out that “Music supports all learning.” He goes on to explain that “it’s a very integrating, stimulating pastime or activity.”

Enhancing Language Development

Students who study music out-perform those who don’t in a variety of language skills, and these gains only increase over time. Music students are better at the following:

  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Proofreading
  • Using information resources

Mary Leuhrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, says, “When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development.” The parts of the brain that process music and develop language are closely linked, so advancements in one naturally benefit the other. Songs that incorporate the written word can also help enhance language by neatly tying the two together.

Increasing Mathematical Skills

The parts of the brain that are used practice music are also used for processing math. Students involved in music will later do better in algebra, which is an important stepping stone for more complex mathematical studies. A study in a 1999 issue of Neurological Research revealed that second graders given eight months of piano keyboard lessons and access to music software were later able to perform sixth-grade math on the Stanford 9 Math Test.

Improving Neural Activity

The brain’s neural networks strengthen and grow as a result of music education. Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College, and Gottfried Schlaug, professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, conducted a study that revealed improved fine motor tasks and sound discrimination in students who underwent 15 months of weekly music lessons. Brain images showed that the networks associated with these tasks were more developed in these students.

In “The Music in Our Minds,” published in Educational Leadership Vol. 56, #3, Norman M. Weinberger wrote that “making music actively engages the brain synapses, and there is good reason to believe that it increases the brain’s capacity by increasing the strengths of connections among neurons.” Researchers at the University of Munster in Germany found that the brain is actually enlarged through music study. The part of the brain used to analyze pitch was 25 percent larger in musicians. The earlier students began their study of music, the larger this part of the brain appeared.

Improved Behavior and Participation

Music is often a group activity that teaches children how to work together to produce a piece of music, keeping the same rhythm and contributing their individual parts to make a whole that’s greater than any individual voice or instrument. Music teaches discipline and encourages better behavior in students. Data from the National Data Resource Center indicates that students classified as disruptive comprise about 12.14 percent of the school population, but of those involved in music, only 8.08 percent exhibit disruptive behaviors.

Schools with music programs also enjoy higher attendance. The National Association for Music Education revealed that the average attendance rate is 93.3 percent in schools with music programs, compared to just 84.9 percent in those without.

Boosting Test Scores

Students who study music at a young age may actually increase their IQ. In a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, E. Glenn Schellenberg published a study which found a higher IQ in six-year-olds who took weekly voice and piano lessons when compared to their counterparts. IQ tests were administered before first grade and before second grade. Those who took music lessons averaged three IQ points higher than those in other groups.

This translates to higher test scores on average. Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas found that elementary school students who have access to superior music education programs score an average of 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math.

Are you interested in promoting better music education programs for elementary school students? You can take an active role in providing a music education to these young learners. Begin with a Master of Music in music education degree from Kent State University, and learn how you can utilize an advanced education to enhance your impact on students.



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