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The IQ in Music – 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 look at the question, “Do music lessons make a child smarter? Do music lessons have ‘side benefits’ that extend to non-musical areas of intelligence? Do music lessons increase a child’s overall IQ level, making them. better on reasoning, mathematics and language comprehension?” How this question was answered is as interesting as what the answer turns out to be.
Why is this question interesting?
Here is one answer. Children have limited free time to invest in extracurricular activities, and parents must choose between activities for their children. If the choice is between, say, ballet and music lessons, and music can increase intelligence but ballet is not, that might be reason enough to choose music over ballet. Ballet may be good for reasons that music may not be – for motor coordination skills, for example – but at least now the parent has a firmer basis on which to choose.
How we CANNOT answer the question: Do music lessons improve IQ?
The question ‘do music lessons make a child smarter?’ it is not something that can be answered by 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 are doing well in school, that these lessons must help them develop their intelligence and school success. But this conclusion is not justified. why not Because they are just as likely to both do better in school and take music because they are from a certain socio-economic class where the average IQ is higher to begin with. Children with a high IQ are more likely than other children to take music lessons because better educated and wealthier parents tend to provide music lessons for their children – it is part of the culture of the more educated and wealthier to give music lessons. Not all educated and wealthy parents, but many of them. But this does not necessarily mean that music lessons have any effect on the children’s developing intelligence. Many educated and well-to-do parents also buy certain brands of clothes for their children, but the clothes children wear do not make them smarter.
So we can’t try to figure out if taking music lessons improves IQ like that.
How can we answer the question: Do music lessons improve IQ?
To find out the answer to this question, we have to do an experiment. We need to set things up like this: take lots of kids from different backgrounds and randomly assign (with a coin) half of those 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 with 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 score higher on average on the IQ test – we know that it is not due to family background (because family backgrounds are mixed equally across the two groups). If we find a difference, we will also be more confident that the intelligence gain is specific to music and not any extracurricular activity (be it music, drama, ballet, karate or soccer). Basically, by doing this kind of “critical experiment” we make sure that we have pinpointed the effect of the music lessons on intelligence.
Schellenberg’s critical experiment
In 2004 someone finally did this scientific experiment: Glenn Schellenberg of the Department of Psychology, University of Toronto. He placed an ad in a local, community newspaper, offering free, weekly art lessons for 6-year-olds for a year. 144 children were then assigned randomly 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 had no extracurricular lessons. The teachers were trained, female professionals. The children in all groups took an intelligence test called the WISC-III both before and after the year of lessons. The WISC-III is the most highly regarded and widely used intelligence test for children. All four groups had the same average IQ level at the start of the experiment. Children in each group differed in their intelligence level of course, but the average intelligence of each group was the same. This is obviously important for us to draw any conclusions about the effects of the different types of lessons.
And what did Schellenberg find? Do music lessons 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 lessons. What explains this general increase in IQ for all children? An increase in IQ is known to be a common consequence of entering high school. Since all these children started school during the period of the experiment, it is easy to explain this general IQ increase as due to simple attendance at school.
But – and this is the crux – the two music lesson groups had significantly greater gains in IQ than the dramatic and “lesson” groups. We can conclude from these data that taking music lessons, but not drama lessons, led to gains in intelligence over and above the gains obtained by attending school. It didn’t matter the type of music lesson (whether keyboard or voice); both groups had the same average IQ score after a year of lessons. And both music groups had a 3 points higher IQ score compared to the drama and n0 lesson groups who did not differ from each other in their IQ scores.
This relative superiority of IQ in the music groups was not limited to one particular aspect of intelligence – such as spatial intelligence – but was found in all but 2 of the 12 subtests of the WISC-III intelligence test, across a wide range of cognitive. skills that require intelligence. It benefited all subtests of what is known as fluid intelligence – the ability to reason and find relationships in a way that does not depend on background knowledge.
The size of the effect: How should we judge it?
3 IQ points doesn’t sound like a big impact, but there is a way of looking at this gain in IQ that helps put it in perspective and helps us assess its importance. Compare it to the gain of going to gym first. The average IQ gain from going to school was about 4 points. The additional gain of taking music lessons (3 points) was, therefore, almost as much as the full experience of school itself. This now looks like a pretty big effect.
What is special about music?
We must be clear about one thing. Schellenberg’s experiment shows that music lessons improve IQ for six-year-olds. It doesn’t tell us that music lessons improve IQ for older children or for adults unfortunately. It is known that the brains of six-year-olds are very “plastic” – that is, these young brains can be shaped and reorganized to a large extent by experience. Older children and adults have less brain plasticity and one could predict that a year of music lessons in this case would have less effect on general intelligence – although we don’t know for sure.
By taking music lessons, knowledge and skill related to music increases, and that is important in itself. But what Schellenberg’s experiment shows is that in addition to that, 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 musical notation, memorizing extended musical passages, learning about various musical structures (eg, scales, chords), and progressive mastery of fine motor skills. It is not known exactly which combination of these skills improves general intelligence, and further studies will need to investigate this question.
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