Keys to Learning Part VI –
Learning Music Key to Success

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

Setting the stage for success

Play It Forward can cite numerous studies that indicate learning to play an instrument early in a child’s life can help that child become more successful later in life.

In June 2022, two Hungarian researchers, Márta Janurik and Krisztián Józsa, published “Long-Term Impacts of Early Musical Abilities on Academic Achievement: A Longitudinal Study” in the Journal of Intelligence. The study followed 76 Hungarian children for seven years, from first grade to seventh, to determine how music education affected their performance academically.

“(W)e conclude that musical abilities, primarily rhythm perception and reproduction, and early arithmetic skills in Grade 1 are associated with the development of key cognitive skills that play a role in later academic achievement,” the researchers stated.

In particular, the study noted children who begin studying music in first grade perform better in the areas of math and literacy down the road than their peers who do not study music.

“Thus, this study emphasizes the benefits of early music training, especially rhythmic training, for all children in the early years and, specifically, for disadvantaged children. The powerful enhancement of musical abilities in preschool and the early years of school may facilitate the development of core skills that, in turn, positively influence academic achievement in the long run.”

Molding the mind

Several studies indicate music students’ minds get better at discriminating between different sounds, concentrating on a task and even visualizing how things go together (spatial intelligence), a key ability needed to do well in math.

In 2012, a PBS article titled “The Benefits of Music Education” by Laura Lewis Brown touted the positive effects of such education and noted it prepares a child’s brain for successful learning through life.

Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a nonmusician,” the article stated. ‘There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,’ says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches a specialized music curriculum for children aged two months to nine years.”

California Dreamin’

In Nov. 2022, California voters approved Proposition 28: The Arts and Music in Schools (AMS) Funding Guarantee and Accountability. The initiative provides additional funding for arts education in California public schools.

According to the University of Southern California, the initiative’s goals are backed by sound research, particularly given the devastating impact the Covid lockdowns earlier this decade had on students of all ages.

In a January article this year, titled “Researchers find music education benefits youth wellbeing,” USC found music education is helping students recover from the pandemic’s isolation.

“We know that the pandemic has taken a toll on student mental health. The many narratives of learning loss that have emerged since the start of the pandemic paint a grim picture of what some call a ‘lost generation,’” said Beatriz Ilari, a USC Thornton associate professor of music education and corresponding author of the study. “Music might be an activity to help students develop skills and competencies, work out their emotions, engage in identity work and strengthen connections to the school and community.”

Ilari and her fellow researchers found that students who started music education before age 8 were more hopeful about the future, and younger students who received musical training scored higher in key measures of positive youth development. 

The research team also found that younger students scored higher in key development measures than their older peers. Sixth-grade students, for example, scored higher for overall positive youth development than eighth graders, and scored higher in the confidence domain than both seventh- and eighth graders. Seventh grade students also scored higher in overall positive youth development than eighth graders.

We should add that here in Oregon during the pandemic, Play It Forward not only continued to teach students instrumental lessons remotely but even held recitals AND a virtual summer songwriting camp so children could continue their music education despite being unable to meet in person with teachers. 

College prep for success

Music students seem better prepared for college as well, according to the Arts Education Partnership, a national coalition of more than 100 education, arts, cultural, government, business, and philanthropic organizations.

In its 2018 report titled “Music Matters: How Music Education Helps Students Learn, Achieve, and Succeed,” AEP noted that SAT scores reveal the benefits of musical education.

“An analysis of 10 years of SAT data revealed that students who took four years of arts courses in high school earned the highest scores on both the verbal and math SAT, but overall, students taking any arts courses scored significantly higher than students who took no arts courses (Vaughn et al., 2000). Of these students, those who took music courses earned the highest math and second highest verbal SAT scores (College Board, 2010).”

Year Ahead

Our KEYS to Learning Series highlights what we do at Play It Forward as we ask you, our valued supporter, to help put those KEYS in the hands of our students.
On that note, in 2024, we are asking folks to commit to one of two options:
  1. Make a monthly donation of $20 for 2024.
  2. Make a one-time $200 donation that will be used to fund 200 students receiving backpacks!

We realize our supporters often assist many nonprofits in our community, not just us, so any contribution you can make to Play It Forward is more than welcome.

We are in an exciting period of organizational growth and improvement, as we’re becoming better and better known in the educational and nonprofit communities. We hope you will continue to accompany Play It Forward as we journey toward a brighter future for all the children we serve.