Extra-Curricular Activities: The Wondrous Benefits of Learning a Musical Instrument

Extra-curricular activities – so many to choose from and so little time to do them all. At the end of the day, it all comes down to what your child likes best and what your child is willing to sacrifice his precious time for. However, if you could choose, what should it be? Obviously the one that gives you the most “bang for your buck”, right?

Most parents know that learning music – or more specifically, learning a musical instrument – has many benefits for their children. Over the years, the research supporting these benefits are beginning to stack up. If you are looking for an extra-curricular activity that will provide your child additional advantages, you should seriously consider music lessons.

A Little Bit of Music Training is Still Better Than None

Previously, we wrote about the benefits of learning music long-term (i.e. 10 years or more). Indeed most studies on the beneficial effects of music usually examine individuals who have had many years of musical training. Since many children are unlikely to persist with long term musical training, parents may wonder about the benefit of learning music at all. A new study reveals that even a little bit of music training in childhood can have beneficial long term effects on the function of the adult brain. So even children who study a musical instrument for as little as 1-5 years are better off than children who have no musical training.

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Music Lessons Develop Listening and Learning Skills

These children are not only better listeners, but likely better learners as well because they are better able to “process speech in noisy classrooms and more accurately interpret the nuances of language that are conveyed by subtle changes in the human voice“.

Given the level of noise in the environment we live in, being able to filter out the background noise and listen in on the important matter is clearly an important skill in life. In Mind in the Making, one of the seven esssential life skills is perspective taking – the ability to understand what others are thinking and feeling. One way to do this is to pick up on the tone of the other person’s voice. Individuals who are more discerning to voice changes will be better off at perspective taking.

Studying Music has Cross-Benefits to Unrelated Skills

Children learning music don’t only develop the skills directly related to learning an instrument (such as auditory discrimination and finger dexterity) but they also have improved verbal ability and visual pattern completion. 4-6 years olds with only one month of musical training had increased verbal intelligence showing that early music training is also advantageous. How early is early? Even babies benefit from interactive music lessons. They have better early communication skills, they smiled more, they were easier to soothe, and they were less distressed when things were unfamiliar or did not go their way.

Research: Practicing a Musical Instrument in Childhood is Associated with Enhanced Verbal Ability and Nonverbal Reasoning (Forgeard et al., October 2008)

Children who received at least three years of instrumental music training outperformed their control counterparts on two outcomes closely related to music (auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills) and on two outcomes distantly related to music (vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills). Duration of training also predicted these outcomes.

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