Parenting: Kids and music

David Murphy's early musical training led to employment, but it can help any kid learn.

David Murphy says music lessons can make other lessons easier to learn.
September 14, 2011 9:31:45 AM PDT
Two out of my three kids showed an interest in musical instruments. My daughter took eight years of piano. My youngest son is about two years down the road in guitar. Is my daughter a virtuoso? No, she works with animals. Is my son the next Ted Nugent? Time will tell, but the odds say, 'probably not'. But I'm fine with this, as well as the thousands of dollars we spent ($10 and $20 dollars at a time) for the weekly lessons because of how it can help kids in other ways.

The research has been there for a long time, but in case you missed it, decades of studies have confirmed that regular music lessons like piano, guitar, or the flute, enhance children's ability to learn in general and can even increase a child's IQ. A study out of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, for example, compared two groups of young kids who either took music lessons or didn't. Memory skills, literacy, math scores and IQ were all higher in the musically-trained kids. has a very nice article on this theme. And while I'm at it, here's a link to McMaster's various ongoing research on the subject of music and learning (it's apparently a big thing for them).

The bottom line is that musical training is a kind of exercise for the cranium and can create synapses and learning paths that are later utilized by the brain for other endeavors like general learning. In my daughter's case, she did not become a musician, but more natural inclined toward art and language, she successfully completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Biology---no easy task. I like to think the channels opened by the years of piano helped.

Elvis has entered the building

In some kids, the musical exposure may help in another way---musically. I took singing lessons for eight years when I was a kid which involved reading music, and was active in musical theater, too. I even tried choir once or twice (many hours reading classical music lines and coordinating one melody while others were singing about six other parts around me). I didn't exactly wind-up as a musician, but I did play in a band for about a year (note the vintage hair in the attached photograph) and I had an acting career which included some singing occasionally. You could argue that the musical training also indirectly led to what I'm doing now, as my broadcast journalism degree was at least partly rooted in performance.

So there are two reasons to say "yes" if your kids express an interest in trying their hands at guitar, piano, tuba or violin. One: you may set them on a career path that leads to a stage. Two: you will almost certainly improve their ability to learn, no matter what they choose to study. Oh, and by the way, the research suggests that the greatest impact of music education on young brains is during the grade school years, so get them started early if you can.

---David Murphy

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