Music and Learning

What do Brian May and Tom Scholz have in common? The obvious answer for many classic rock fans is that they are both great guitarists. Brian May of the music group Queen, is considered one of the world’s best lead guitarists. Tom Scholz was the lead guitarist and brainchild of the band Boston.However what many do not know is that both of these musicians are university scholars. Brian May; after a 30-year break pursuing his musical career, returned to Imperial College, London, to complete his Doctoral Thesis in Astrophysics on Interplanetary Dust. He currently holds a doctoral degree in Astrophysics. Tom Scholz holds a Masters in Mechanical Engineering from the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In fact, he worked for Polaroid many years and was involved with the development of the Polaroid instant cameras.

There are likely many more accomplished musicians out there who have had success in post secondary education as well.  Is it a coincidence? Not really. In fact, a recent study has suggested what many had suspected.  That is music training and playing may boost overall brain power.  A study at the Northwestern University published in the Journal Nature, linked the skills of musical training to improving language, speech, memory and attention. Previous studies had suggested that music playing was also helpful in developing mathematical skills.  In addition, there are a number of studies that suggest  that students who participate in  formal music education have higher academic achievement scores than students who do not participate in formal music education. A review article on this topic by Donald A. Hodges and Debra S. O’Connell of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.Here are some of their conclusions:

  • Being excused from non-music classes to attend instrumental lessons does not adversely affect academic performance.
  • One study examined the relationship between enrollment in music performance classes and athletic extracurricular activities on academic achievement.  Musicians showed a tendency to maintain stabilized grades while the athletes and non-participants groups’ grades dropped.
  • High school seniors who had participated in instrumental music programs from sixth through 12th grades scored significantly higher on tests of language, arts and math than their counterparts who had participated in non-music extra-curricular activities or who had not participated in extra-curricular activities.
  • In another study of grade five students, keyboard students outperformed their counterparts on total language, 3 R’s battery, concept of numbers, math computations, math applications, and total math.
  • Still, another study showed a positive relationship between playing in the high school concert band  and SAT scores
  • Finally, a significant relationship was between the sight-reading achievement of instrumental music students and reading and math achievement and GPA(grade point average).