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Studies and Statistics on the Importance of Music Education

Compiled by C. Joy Reyes

The following is a short and sweet version of my senior thesis written in March 2000. I hope it will deepen your understanding of the importance of music education and encourage you to increase your child's involvement with music.

Ryan Sapp
Dr. Chongson
Assignment 2
31 Jan, 2008

1. My topic is the power of music and what affect it has on the brain’s emotions.

2. Reference Material article’s title is the Emotional Power of Music: How Music Enhances the Feeling of Affective Pictures by Baumgartner, Thomas, Lutz, Kai, Schmidt, Conny F., and Jäncke, Lutz. Call number 0006-8993, and found on Academic Search Premier.

3. Another reference article I found was an article called What's Behind The Subliminal Power Of Music by Pellegrino, Richard G.. The article was found in the Academic Search Premier database, and the call number is 0006-2510. The source of the article is from Billboard; 01/23/99, Vol. 111 Issue 4, p4, 2p.

4. The book I found was called Music and morals: A theological appraisal of the moral and psychological effects of music by Cole, Basil. I found it in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with a call number of 0-8189-0660-X. The publisher is Alba House (NY) New York, NY, U.S.A.

Music and the Brain

Music puts the brain to work in ways other mental functions do not, causing it to grow. Gordon Shaw (cited in Weinberger, 1998) claims that music "actually exercises the brain—not merely by developing specific music skills, but also by strengthening the synapses between brain cells (p. 38)." The synapses control the brain's ability to hear, see, read, understand symbols, speak, use and coordinate muscles, evaluate actions, experience pleasure, and remember. Music makes use of every single one of these systems. Frank Wilson (cited in Lehr, 1998), a well-known neurologist at UCLA states that "UCLA brain scan studies indicated that music more fully involves brain functions in both hemispheres than any other activity the researchers studied (p. 41)."

Specific Research Examples

The "Mozart Effect" is the most famous of the music/brain research findings. The research was done by the Center for Neuro-biology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine. Thirty-six college students participated, being split into three groups of twelve. Each group was first given one of three ten-minute listening experiences: either Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K. 448, a relaxation tape or silence. Then, each group took spatial reasoning tasks that are used in I.Q. tests. The group listening to Mozart received scores eight to nine points higher from merely a ten listening experience. (cited in Miller & Coen, 1994, p. 460)

Additional experiments have been conducted with children in the second grade rather than adults at the same University. "26 got piano instruction plus a math video game that trains players to mentally rotate shapes and to use them to learn ratios and fractions. Another 29 got computer-based English training plus the math video game. A control group of 28 got no special training. After 4 months, the piano group scored 15% higher than the English group in a test of what they had learned in the computer game—and 27% higher on the questions devoted to proportional math. These gains were on top of the finding that the computer game alone boosted scores by 36% over the control group (Holden, 1999, p. 2007)." A similar study was done with 3 year-olds which discovered an 80% increase in spatial and temporal reasoning over a one year study. Amazing for such a young group of kids! It appears that the younger the children are, the more effective the training is. (Waleson, 1995, p. 35)

Brain imagery studies have concluded that musician's brains are structured differently than non-musicians. Harry Price, Professor and chair of music education at the University of Alabama (1999) studied brain imagery patterns and came to the conclusion that parts of the cerebral hemisphere increase "in the thickness of neural fibers connecting the two sides of the brain in children who begin stringed-instrument or keyboard study before the age of seven compared to children who are not exposed to this kind of learning." Some scientists theorize that young keyboard and string players are using both hands in ways that twentieth-century American children usually do not have to do (p. 31)."

Richard Pelligrino (1999), relates experiments connected with work he did in emergency rooms in New York: "We would often see heroin addicts who came in nearly dead from overdoses. As they struggled for breath, we would feverishly prepare injections of Naloxone. This drug binds to opium receptors in the brain. When heroin is bound to these receptors, one experiences an "opium high." But Naloxone is a spoiler. It kicks the opium off the receptor, ties it up, and produces no high. Result: 60 to zero instantly... The same receptors that bind opium also bind endorphins, a class of natural opioids found in the brain that seem to play a pivotal role in the way we experience music. Experiments have shown that if you give Naloxone to a group of people and ask them to listen to their favorite music, it suddenly becomes an intellectual exercise...The intensity of emotions seems to diminish. People really do get "hooked on a feeling (p.4)." It would be very difficult to not believe that music education has value after reviewing the abundance of research. It is clear that music has an immense effect on our ability to function, and some claim that music is more than stimuli, it is a part of our being.

Music's Link to Biological Roots

Music is more than a product of social and cultural interaction. The roots of music have been traced back to our basic biological functions. Norman Weinberger (1998) lays out the four basic factors that qualify a function as biological. The first requirement for a biological function is that animals also have the same fundamental ability, and this seems to be the case with music. For example, monkeys are capable of thinking musically. They are able to determine the fundamental frequency of a harmonic series. The second requirement is that the biological factor be universal, common across the globe. This is most certainly the case. Each culture has developed a style of music, and all caregivers communicate to infants through lullabies and musical baby talk. Third, biological behaviors are revealed in childhood, before culture and society mold the child with learned behavior. Studies have proven that infants can discriminate pitch as well as adults, understand rhythms and remember melodies. The fourth and last requirement is that the brain be capable of processing musical activity. The former section on brain research gives ample proof of the brain's ability. "The functional architecture of the brain honors music as much as it honors language (p.38)."

Music and the Student

"Music for every child and every child for music." - Motto by Karl Gehrkens, founder of the Music Supervisor's National Conference (cited in Turner, 1998, p. 44)

Babies are able to hear music before birth, even responding to sound stimuli during the third trimester, according to Joyce Huffaker (cited in Costa-Giomi, et al., 1999), a neonatologist at Kaiser Permanente-Los Angeles. Hearing a wide variety of music during the younger years has the same result as hearing many different languages spoken in the household while growing up. Once the child reaches the schooling ages of their development, they are able to grasp and understand many styles of music and musical concepts because they have developed a "sound bank" foundation for music just like they do for language.

The prime time to begin the building of a student's musical foundation is between the ages of three and ten. Very few concert performers began study after the age of ten. When a student begins study at a later age, the halves of the brain are stimulated unequally during their greatest stages of development. The student's brain is then almost incapable of developing as a whole, and the potential intelligence of the student will remain underdeveloped (cited in Lehr, 1998, p. 40-41).

The need for a continual exposure to the arts, not a temporary emphasis, is very important or the positive effects will quickly be lost. Studies have also found that instruction in any subject reveals greater changes in the child's development when the child is a participant rather than a spectator. Music allows for this interaction more readily than many other areas of study (Rauscher, 1999, p.31). Music also seems to be the answer to the latest trend in discipline integration. Music combines factors from reading, math, science and social studies. "The arts, especially music, are the disciplines that pull all knowledge together (cited in Hoffman, 1995, p. 36)." James Undercofler (1997) takes this statement further claiming that music not only incorporates the other disciplines but involves students in multiple levels of the other subjects all at once. The mental processes required for music combine simple and complex functions simultaneously. This process, including the organization of sound, evaluation and refinement is repeated constantly and is unduplicated in any other core subject area (p.17).

It is apparent that music education holds an important place in the growth of our children, but music has a much larger impact on students than what can be seen on the surface through scientific studies and observations. Miller and Coen (1994) state, "The primary purpose of including music in the school curriculum is to disperse its message throughout the culture. Through music, students learn the rich and wordless dimensions of their own cultural heritage. They discover in the musical heritage of other cultures a common ground that minimizes national boundaries and language differences (p. 460)." A culture is known by its music, and "to be illiterate in the arts is to be blind, mute, and deaf at a most fundamental level (p. 461)."

Music and Behavior

The connection with music and behavior is not a new revelation. The affected areas of the brain are also connected to positive behaviors such as confidence, sensitivity, leadership and better listening skills (Price,1999, p. 31). A change in behavior was noticed even during the time that Boston was researching the value of music in 1837. Part of the report stated, "Of the great moral effect of music there can be no question...It excites the listless, and calms the turbulent and uneasy." Behavior changes made a large difference in the acceptance of music education in early America. (cited in Sturm, 1998, p. 18)

Communication is also a behavior enhanced by music education. An administrator at Wolcott Elementary in Connecticut, Plato Karafelis (cited in Hoffman, 1995) puts great value on music's ability to communicate and teach people how to reach out to others. This freedom of expression is what Karafelis believes affects the overall achievement of his school. Every year the results from the Connecticut Mastery Test increase. (p. 36)

Music also requires incredible discipline and teamwork to achieve true musicianship. Janie Ruth Hatton, (cited in Hoffman, 1995) has seen proof of this in her experience as the principal of the Milwaukee Trade and Technical High School in Wisconsin. She believes that through the work involved to make the finished musical product, students learn to appreciate each other as a community and work together as a team. "When students learn discipline, teamwork, respect for each other, and the pleasure of pursuing intellectual activity, they find meaning in their lives and make a significant contribution to a successful school (p.37)."

Music is a strong way to become successful for life. The discipline required in music is similar to that of everyday life in the workplace, yet it allows us to relax and relieve tension. When music is studied, a long-term goal is set and diligence is required to follow-through with practice and rehearsals to reach your goal (cited in Hoffman, 1995, p.37).


Music education is more than an extra-curricular activity. It is a part of our being and our culture and a basic factor in our self-development, intellectually, behaviorally and as spiritual human beings. Music educators should use all the resources available to them to communicate music's importance to our students so that music will forever hold a place of honor.

"Those who teach music are handing present and future generations a gift whose value is only beginning to be understood." -Martha Shackford (cited in Costa-Giomi, et al., p. 35)


Costa-Giomi, E., Price,H., Rauscher, F., Schmidt, J., Shackford, M., Sims, W. & Wilcox, E. (1999). Straight talk about music and brain research. Teaching Music. 7 (3), 29-35.

Hoffman, E. (1995, August). Music is key to successful schools. Teaching Music 3 (1), 36-37.

Holden, C. (1999, March 26). Music as brain builder. Science. 283 (5410), 2007.

Lang, S. (1999). Music- good not only for the soul, but the brain. Human Ecology Forum. 27 (2), 24.

Lehr, M. (1998, December). Music education, the brain-building subject. Teaching Music. 6 (3), 40-41.

Miller, A., & Coen, D. (1994). The case for music in the schools. Phi Delta Kappan. 75 (6), 459-461.

Pellegrino, R. (1999, January 23). What's behind the subliminal power of music. Billboard. 111 (4), 4-5.

Reimer, B. (1993). Justifying music education. Music Educators Journal. 80 (3), 10-14.

Sturm, C. (1998). Advocating music study in the united states: a colorful history with lessons for today's arts supporters. American Music Teacher. 47 (4), 17-21.

Turner, M. (1998, April). An active musical life. Teaching Music. 4 (1), 44-45.

Undercofler, J. (1997). Music in America's schools: A plan for action. Arts Education Policy Review. 98 (6), 15-19.

Waleson, H. (1995, June 10). Mozart makes you smarter. Billboard. 107 (23), 35.

Weinberger, N. (1998). The music in our minds. Educational Leadership. 56 (3) 36-40.

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Last modified 16 Feb 2024

Milbert Amplifiers, The Most Musical Amplifiers. Made in USA since 1986.
Milbert Amplifiers
The Most Musical Amplifiers
Made in USA since 1986

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