Put down the banjo, Timmy: study finds learning music won’t make children smart

Earlier research suggested that playing an instrument could increase your IQ

Playing a musical instrument doesn't necessarily make children smarter. Elvert Barnes Photography
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Albert Einstein began playing the violin at the tender age of 6 … but learning to master a musical instrument does not necessarily make you more intelligent.

A study published in medical journal Memory & Cognition has found learning music does not have a positive impact on children's cognitive skills, such as memory and academic achievement.

Giovanni Sala at Fujita Health University, Japan, and Fernand Gobet at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the UK, examined evidence on the effects of music training on children's cognitive skills and academic achievement.

Previous research indicated a link between music training and better skills and performance, with some researchers even suggesting that playing an instrument can raise your IQ.

But after analysing data from 54 studies conducted on 6,984 participants between 1986 and 2019, Dr Sala’s team found music training was ineffective at enhancing cognitive or academic skills, regardless of the skill type, participants' age and duration of music training.

The authors found studies with high-quality design, such as those which used a group of active controls – children who did not learn music but instead learned a different skill, such as dance or sports, for example – showed no effect of music education on cognitive or academic performance.

"Our study shows that the common idea that 'music makes children smarter' is incorrect,” said Dr Sala, the lead author.

"On the practical side, this means that teaching music with the sole intent of enhancing a child's cognitive or academic skills may be pointless.

“While the brain can be trained in such a way that if you play music, you get better at music, these benefits do not generalise in such a way that if you learn music, you also get better at maths.

"Researchers' optimism about the benefits of music training appears to be unjustified and may stem from misinterpretation of previous empirical data."