Keys to Learning Part II – Music Lessons are Key to Education

Keys, both physical as well as musical, have long symbolized the tools needed to unlock potential in ourselves.

Enhanced Attendance

Anyone who has raised a child knows the reason that child loves – or doesn’t love – school has to do with how excited a child is to attend school in the first place. And the evidence is abundantly clear from around the globe that music education is a key to unlocking a child’s desire to be educated. PIF examined a number of studies on music and education, and found that learning music, whether through instruments or singing, helps children feel more connected to their schools as well as surer of themselves.

In 2016, Little Kids Rock, now known as Music Will, a national non-profit program that provides free musical instruments, teacher training, curriculum materials, and instruction for students in public schools with poverty rates of 50 percent or higher, commissioned a study on attendance and music education. LKR/Music Will partners with school districts in 29 U.S. cities, including the Dallas Independent School District in Texas.

“Anecdotal evidence from teachers and administrators in the Dallas Independent School District suggests that (Music Will) students who participate in middle school (music education) become engaged in their education in ways that help them remain in school,” the study stated.

Meanwhile a 2017 paper by Katherine Brizuela of Eastern Washington University, titled “Links Between School Music Clubs and Student Attendance” specifically examined the impact of music education on low-income students, who often exhibit a higher rate of absenteeism than their more affluent peers. Brizuela teaches at an elementary school in Washington State, and noticed that children who participated in music clubs were more likely to show up on time to school than those who didn’t, and also were less likely to be absent from school.

“It is the researcher’s experience that music education programs provide a common ground that connects low-income students with their environment and the community around them,” she wrote. “Whether that means taking part in activities that help them feel a part of the school’s culture, or connecting with other students, she has found that music education is a way to bridge the gap between the demanding public school system and the struggles of students from low-income families.”

Like Play It Forward, which has found its students responding positively to learning instruments, the Washington State teacher/researcher noted her survey of students yielded much positive feedback.

“It is encouraging to see that most students report enjoying school and music club,” she wrote. “Several students used the term ‘love’ when describing their friends, teachers, and music. This suggests that the positive reasons for attending school and clubs are strong enough to outweigh the difficulties. The 93 % of students reporting positive feelings toward their music club provides further descriptive evidence that their positive experiences of club might possibly impact increased school attendance on club days.”

Solid Students

Meanwhile, according to a recent compilation of studies put together by a researcher at Penn State University, learning how to play music not only opens the doors to education, but enables young people to inhabit a soundly constructed mental home for years. The paper quoted Congressional

  • Students who participate in school band or orchestra have the lowest levels of current and lifelong use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs among any group in society (Congressional resolution).
  • High school music students have been shown to hold higher grade point averages (GPA) than non-musicians in the same school (University of British Columbia).
  • A study of 7,500 university students revealed that music majors scored the highest reading scores among all majors including English, biology, chemistry and math (The Phi Delta Kappan).
  • The schools that produced the highest academic achievement in the United States today are spending 20% to 30% of the day on the arts, with special emphasis on music (Journal for Research in Mathematics Education).
  • Music training helps under-achievers. Students lagging behind in scholastic performance caught up to their fellow students in reading and surpassed their classmates in math by 22% when given music instruction over seven months (Nature).


What’s probably most fascinating about how music works on a child’s mind is how it affects their non-musical life beneficially.

“A study of 7,500 university students revealed that music majors scored the highest reading scores among all majors including English, biology, chemistry and math.” The Case for Music in the Schools, Phi Delta Kappa.

Rather than an add-on to a child’s education, it’s becoming more and more clear, year after year, that music lessons are an essential key to education for millions of children. Play It Forward believes this so strongly we have staked our mission on handing that key to as many kids as possible.