Playing a musical instrument

Can playing a musical instrument determine academic success for your child?

Various research has examined the causal link between your child’s access to practicing a musical instrument and their grades in school. 11-12 year olds’ academic achievement has been found to be positively influenced by their involvement in after-school ‘arts’ activities of the musical variety. (Young, Cordes & Winner, 2014). As suggested by Schellenberg (2004), practicing a musical instrument advocates the enhancement of general intellectual ability. In his research report, children began taking music lessons (either keyboard or singing) in comparison with a control of children taking drama lessons or none at all.

The IQ of these children was recorded before and after beginning the lessons. Superior full-scale IQ was found in the children taking part in both keyboard and voice lessons, when compared with the control groups of drama and no lessons. This highlights the notion that encouraging your child to take part in extracurricular music lessons can be tremendously beneficial for intelligence and consequently academic success.

Another study highlighting this finding demonstrated the positive significance of instrumental music training in additional detail (Foregard et al., 2008). The following improvements were seemingly associated; vocabulary, fine motor skills, nonverbal reasoning and auditory discrimination (ability to distinguish differences in phonemes). It is also noted that adolescents who regularly practice a musical instrument, show significant differences in school grades as well as ambition when compared to those who do not (Hille & Schupp, 2015).

With regards to the reasons behind this link, Huttenlocher (2002) has shed some light on the idea. It appears that the reason we see this association between music practice and intelligence in school children is the great time periods of focus as well as daily attention and practice are likely to make a positive impression on cognition. As school age children sit in the critical brain development period, environmental influence is highly important. These skills acquired from learning an instrument translate into good practices academically. Studies on parents have highlighted this also as is it universally believed that practicing music promotes desirable characteristics as previously mentioned (Dai & Shader, 2001).

Some evidence has also suggested that exposure to simply a ‘musically-enriched’ rather than playing a musical instrument could also have positive cognitive effects for primary school children, such as mathematics and language. Therefore, it is apparent that music in general has multiple progressive effects for child cognition and brain development.

The proof is in the pudding with these trends we see in increased IQ when it comes to encouraging your child to take part in musical instrument lessons outside of class.


Dai, D. Y., & Schader, R. (2001). Parents’ reasons and motivations for supporting their child’s music training. Roeper Review, 24(1), 23-26.

Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Norton, A., & Schlaug, G. (2008). Practicing a musical instrument in childhood is associated with enhanced verbal ability and nonverbal reasoning. PloS one, 3(10), e3566.

Hille, A., & Schupp, J. (2015). How learning a musical instrument affects the development of skills. Economics of Education Review, 44, 56-82.

Huttenlocher, P. R. Harvard University Press; Cambridge, MA: 2002. Neural Plasticity: The Effects of Environment on the Development of the Cerebral Cortex.[Google Scholar].

Schellenberg, E. G. (2004). Music lessons enhance IQ. Psychological science, 15(8), 511-514.

Young, L. N., Cordes, S., & Winner, E. (2014). Arts involvement predicts academic achievement only when the child has a musical instrument. Educational Psychology, 34(7), 849-861.