Bells and whistles aside, does music help improve a person’s math and cognitive skills?
Years ago, new parents became obsessed with the “Baby Einstein” series. These DVDs (and the corresponding flashcards, toys, and board books) promised to stimulate a baby’s brain with a combination of classical music and colorful images.
But bells and whistles aside, does music help improve a person’s math and cognitive skills? The “Baby Einstein” trend eventually fizzled out, but scientists and behavioral experts continue about how music can stimulate—and possibly, train—the brain.
The “Math” in Music
Research has shown that when children are trained in music emphasizing sequential skill development, rhythm, and pitch, these same children did show an improvement in math studies over students who received traditional musical education which focused more on feeling and appreciation.
A focus on the “math of music” such as time signatures, beats per minute, formulaic progressions, and the like offers more advantages, highlighting that learning how to play instruments and study musical pieces may provide more benefits than simply being musically adept or being able to sing. Some studies have shown that children who play instruments may show improvement in solving complex mathematical problems over students who do not play instruments. However, more research needs to be done to state this conclusively.
Sound frequencies and brain stimulation
Certain kinds of music can help boost the brain’s ability to solve spatial-temporal reasoning problems. Simply put, research has shown that certain sound frequencies produced by the brain may be balanced with the use of specific music – classical music for the right hemisphere and upbeat and major tones for the left. When this happens, students help boost the cognitive functions and focus usually required for complex math processes.
In some studies, listening to music has been shown to improve focus and boost test scores. However, in this instance music was used as a tool to improve emotional state to allow better concentration, and not as a means of specifically improving math skills.
The brain learns from practice and exposure
While research does indicate that listening to music and learning musical instruments can improve cognitive functions, you have to approach “brain development” from a much bigger perspective.
Even if music can activate some parts of the brain, real learning happens from repetition and making connections between experiences and concepts. Even if a child has a natural aptitude for Math, or listens to classical music 24 hours a day, this is useless if he doesn’t actually practice.
Mozart may have had a natural ear for music, but he also played the piano several hours a day. A child may develop early reading skills, but if he isn’t given new and more challenging books, his peers will eventually “catch up” with him after a few years.
Thus, any benefits from early exposure to music won’t necessarily translate to success in math or academics. One can have the tools but still not be able to utilize them properly.
That is the main issue when it comes to general sweeping statements about music and math. While educators and some doctors like to highlight the benefits of music, these can’t be proven by science—partly because you can never completely narrow down a person’s ability to just one factor. Is a child good at Math because of the musical exposure, the parents who encouraged him, the teacher who gave good basics, the confidence from such a supportive environment—or a combination of all?
The real value of music exposure
While there isn’t concrete scientific evidence that music and playing instruments can definitively bolster math skills, there are still several benefits to nurturing our child’s love for music. Students who commit to learning how to play an instrument develop virtues like practice, patience, perseverance, fine motor skills, creativity, and artistic passions. They will be able to use these “life skills” in their studies and any goal they face in the future.
About The Writer
Michelle K. Alejandro
Michelle is a professional writer, photographer, and content creator. Her work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, and online platforms around the globe. She has extensive experience writing articles covering lifestyle, health and wellness, family, parenting, and interior and event styling. She is the founder and author of the blog www.peanutbutterandglitter.com. In her spare time, Michelle loves to travel, spend time with her family, and go on fun and creative adventures with her daughter.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.