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Will Music Really Make Your Child Smarter?

The nineties have been the decade for widespread news about the affects of music on the brain.
Everyone seems to be asking about the "Mozart Effect", specifically what it is and how to use it to
their child's benefit. It is certainly an exciting time to be a music educator and a parent. We are
finally able to look at documented research that shows that music is integral to a child's growth, and
use this information to help our children achieve their full potential. What more do we want as
parents than to give our children all of the tools necessary to become happy, well-adjusted,
intelligent human beings?
Unfortunately, like most popular theories, the "Mozart Effect" has become watered down in an effort
by some people to make more money at the expense of the general public. You can go into any
bookstore nowadays and buy "Mozart Effect" books, videos, tapes, and even bumper stickers.
In researching this article I did just that at several local music stores, as well as on the internet. I
looked first in the music section, and when I didn't find any books on the subject, wandered over to
the children's section with my 2 year old daughter. Again, aside from a mixed assortment of compact
discs with music for children's brains, I found nothing of real value for research. Curious, I went to
the information counter where I was told that the "Mozart Effect" books, written by Don Campell,
were to be found in the "alternative medicine" section! And, they were all sold out. That gave me my
first clue that something very interesting was happening on this subject. I decided to research
further in the library and on the internet.

The term "Mozart Effect" has come to simplify (by Don Campbell et al) a large body of research by
neuro-scientists and experimental psychiatrists showing a definitive link between music study and
improved spatial intelligence. This is nothing to be taken lightly. Children are born with over 100
billion unconnected or loosely connected nerve cells called neurons. Every experience that child has
will strengthen or even create links between neurons. Those pathways that remain Kemper Profiles
unused will, after some time, die. Because neural connections are responsible for every kind of
intelligence, a child's brain will develop to its full potential only through exposure to enriching
experiences. It is important then, to identify the kinds of enrichment that forges the links between
Music has been clearly proven to improve neurological connections responsible for spatial
intelligence. Spatial intelligence is necessary for a person to be able to see patterns in space and
time. It is the ability to perceive the visual world accurately and to form mental images of physical

objects. This kind of intelligence is used for higher brain functions such as music, complex math,
solving puzzles, reasoning, and chess. Music specialists for years have noted that their musicallytrained and involved students tend to be at the top of their class, often outscoring their non-musical
classmates in mathematical tasks. Until recently, however, there was no way to clearly prove it.
Definitive studies have been done since the early 1980's when Dr. Gordon Shaw and colleagues
presented the trion model of the brain's neuronal structure to the National Academy of Sciences. By
1990 the team had shown through computer experiments that trion firing patterns produce viable
music, when these patterns are mapped onto musical pitches. This study was important in that it
suggested that this musical model could be used to examine creativity in higher cognitive functions,
such as mathematics and chess, which are similar to music. By 1991, Shaw proposed that music
could be considered a "pre-language" and that early childhood music training exercises the brain for
some higher cognitive structures.
In 1993 at UCal Irvine, Dr. Frances Rauscher, a Columbia PH.D. scientist and former concert cellist,
joined the Shaw team in documenting a pilot study of the earlier research, but now directly applying
their findings to people. This preliminary study showed that a group of college students temporarily
improved their spatial-reasoning skills after listening to a Mozart piano sonata for 10 minutes. The
same study applied to preschool children showed a more permanent improvement.
By 1997, the Rauscher-Shaw team had significant evidence suggesting the benefits of music to
children's spatial intelligence. The team studied three separate groups of preschoolers. The first
group received specialized music training, particularly weekly keyboard lessons; the second group
received specialized computer training; the third group received no specialized training at all. After
several months, the team tested the children using tests designed to measure spatial tasks. Those
children who received the keyboard lessons performed 34% better than the children who had taken
either computer lessons, or no lessons. And, the effects of the keyboard training was long-term,
suggesting that their may indeed be a learning "window" in early childhood, where we may enhance
the connections of neurons forever.
Other research has suggested the same thing--that music training in early childhood indeed helps a
child's brain to develop. In the Winter '95 issue of Early Childhood Connections (ECC), Dr. Edwin E.
Gordon, talks about a Music Learning Window. He says, "A child will never have a higher level of
music aptitude than at the moment of birth... A child's potential to achieve in music remains
throughout life where it stabilizes at age 9." Harvard Medical School's Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, found
(through magnetic-resonance-imaging of musicians who began training before age 7, began later,
and non-musicians) that certain regions of the brain are larger in musicians who started their
musical training before age 7.
Now we have an entire scientific collection of data suggesting what music educators have known for
centuries-- that music has a definitive effect on children's developments.
So, what do we, as parents, do with this information? Here are some suggestions:
1. Although listening to well-structured and performed music such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach
certainly is wonderful for exposure to the arts, it is not simply by listening to music that your child's
brain develops. All of the research has shown that music TRAINING is required. This means getting
your children into music lessons early, while the music learning window is at its peak before age 9.
Piano lessons seem to be exceptionally helpful, as the keyboard is symmetrical, balanced, and

2. Support your child's local music programs in schools, churches, synagogues, etc. Here you will
find skilled, educated music instructors who will bring new musical experiences to your child,
including an appreciation for music in culture, history, and pure listening enjoyment. Demand a
quality music education for your children throughout their lives.
3. Reevaluate where music fits into your home. Question why music traditions and activities, once
central to family life, have been replaced by mass-market entertainment requiring no familial
participation. Get off the couch and onto the floor and sing, dance, play instruments with your child.
Paula Penna, MMed., BMus. is the owner and director of MusicMakers, LLC and The MusicMakers
Academy in Manchester, CT. She has a Masters degree in Music Education and Arts Administration
from Florida State University, and a Bachelors degree in Music Education and art history. She is a
publicly certified music teacher (pre K-12, choral, orchestral, and band). After teaching in the public
schools in Westchester County, NY she worked as the Associate Director of Educational Outreach at
the famed Manhattan School of Music (university level) where she wrote curriculum and trained the
graduate students in how to teach music.