Arts Entertainments

Music IQ: Do Music Lessons For Your Kids Make Them Smarter?

Simply listening to classical music, the so-called ‘Mozart effect’, does not make you smarter. I have presented the grounds for this conclusion elsewhere. In this article, we take a look at the question: “Do music lessons make a child smarter? Do music lessons have ‘collateral benefits’ that spill over into non-musical areas of intelligence? Do music lessons increase a child’s overall IQ level, making them better at reasoning, math, and language comprehension?” How this question has been answered is as interesting as what the answer turns out to be.

Why is this question of interest?

Here is an answer. Children have limited free time to invest in extracurricular activities and parents have to choose between activities for their children. If the choice is between, say, ballet and music lessons, and music is known to increase intelligence but ballet is not, this might be reason enough to choose music over ballet. Ballet may be good for reasons that music may not be, for example, for motor coordination skills, but at least parents now have a firmer base on which to choose.

How can we NOT answer the question: Do music classes improve IQ?

The question ‘do music lessons make a child smarter?’ it is not something that can be answered through common sense and the facts of personal experience. It may be tempting to reason from your observation that all the children you know who take music lessons do well in school, that these lessons should help them develop their intelligence and school success. But this conclusion is not justified. Why not? Because both are just as likely to do better in school and take up music because they belong to a certain socioeconomic class where the average IQ is higher to begin with. Children with high IQs are more likely than other children to take music lessons because more educated and wealthier parents tend to give their children music lessons; it is part of the culture of the more educated and wealthy to give music lessons. Not all educated and wealthy parents, but a lot of them. But this does not necessarily mean that music lessons have any impact on the development of children’s intelligence. Many educated and wealthy parents also buy certain brands of clothing for their children, but the clothes children wear do not make them smarter.

So we can’t try to find out if taking music lessons improves IQ in this way.

How CAN we answer the question: Do music classes improve IQ?

To find the answer to this question we need to do an experiment. We need to set things up this way: Take lots of kids from a variety of backgrounds and randomly assign (by flipping a coin) half of these kids to music lessons for a year, and half to some other extracurricular activity for a year. year, for example, ballet or football. We test both groups of children on an IQ test before the lessons, and then again after the lessons, and see if there is a difference between the two groups. If there is a difference, if those who took music lessons on average score higher on the IQ test, we know it is not due to family history (because family history mixes evenly in the two groups). . If we find a difference, we will also be more certain that the intelligence gain is specific to music and not to any extracurricular activity (be it music, drama, ballet, karate, or soccer). In essence, by doing this kind of ‘critical experiment’ we make sure that we have identified the effect of music lessons on intelligence.

Schellenberg’s Critical Experiment

In 2004 someone finally did this scientific experiment: Glenn Schellenberg of the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto. He placed an ad in a local community newspaper, offering free weekly art lessons for 6-year-olds for one year. Then, 144 children were randomly assigned to one of four different groups, with 36 children in each group. Group 1 received keyboard lessons, Group 2 received voice/singing lessons, Group 3 received drama lessons, and Group 4 received no extracurricular lessons. The instructors were trained, professional women. Children in all groups took an intelligence test called WISC-III both before and after the year of lessons. The WISC-III is the most appreciated and widely used intelligence test for children. All four groups had the same average IQ level at the start of the experiment. Of course, the children in each group differed in their level of intelligence, but the average intelligence of each group was the same. This is obviously important for us to draw conclusions about the effects of different types of lessons.

And what did Schellenberg find? Do music classes increase IQ?

The first interesting finding was that all four groups of children showed an increase in IQ level after the year ended, even the group that did not take any classes. What explains this general increase in the IQ of all children? It is known that an increase in IQ is a common consequence of entering primary school. Since all these children started primary school during the experiment period, it is easy to explain this general increase in IQ due to simple school attendance.

But, and this is the fact of the matter, the two sets of music lessons had greater gains in IQ than theater groups and ‘no lesson’. We can conclude from these data that taking music classes, but not drama classes, led to gains in intelligence in addition to the gains from attending school. It didn’t matter the type of music lesson (either keyboard or voice); both groups had the same average IQ score after one year of lessons. And both music groups had a 3-point higher IQ score compared to the drama and no-lesson groups who did not differ from each other in their IQ score.

This relative IQ superiority in the music groups was not limited to a particular aspect of intelligence, such as spatial intelligence, but was found in all but two of the 12 subtests of the WISC-III intelligence test, in a wide range of cognitive aspects. Skills that require intelligence. It benefited all subtests of what’s known as fluid intelligence — the ability to reason and find relationships in a way that doesn’t rely on prior knowledge.

Effect size: how should we judge it?

3 IQ points doesn’t sound like a huge effect, but there is a way to look at this IQ gain that helps put it into perspective and helps us gauge its importance. Compare that to the gain of going to elementary school first. The average IQ gain from going to school was about 4 points. The additional gain from taking music lessons (3 points) was therefore almost as much as the full experience of the school itself. This now seems like a pretty big effect.

What is special about music?

We have to have one thing clear. Schellenberg’s experiment shows that music lessons improve the IQ of six-year-olds. He doesn’t tell us that music lessons improve the IQ of older children or, sadly, of adults. The brains of six-year-olds are known to be highly “plastic,” meaning that these young brains can be largely shaped and reorganized through experience. Older children and adults have less brain plasticity, and one might predict that a year of music lessons in this case would have less of an impact on general intelligence, although we don’t know for sure.

By taking music lessons, you increase your knowledge and skill related to music, and this is important in itself. But what Schellenberg’s experiment shows is that, in addition to this, general cognitive ability is also trained and improved, indirectly. Taking music lessons is good ‘brain training’ at this age! Music lessons involve long periods of focused attention, daily practice, reading music notation, memorizing long musical passages, learning about a variety of musical structures (eg, scales, chords), and progressively mastering fine motor skills. Exactly which combination of these skills improves general intelligence is not known, and more studies will need to be done to investigate this question.

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