There’s a reason why your parents always wanted you to play an instrument

Living in Atherton Hall comes with many perks. It’s close to downtown, we have private bathrooms, and we have several rooms dedicated to aid our musical ambitions.

We have two soundproof music rooms, where students can practice their instruments, and, of course, our iconic Grandfather Clock Lounge, where our baby grand piano resides (and a piano, I might add, you can hear all hours of the night).


Obviously, administrators feel like music is important in developing scholars, or else they wouldn’t waste the space, money, or energy creating soundproof rooms or providing us with instruments to play.

My parents also held this belief, insisting that I play the piano when I started second grade, and allowing me to choose to play the clarinet in 4th grade. I heard throughout my life that music would make me a better student, expand my creativity, and even help with my memory. But, I never thought to look into those theories to see if they were true.

However, I think the point of this class is to learn how to use evidence to draw conclusions ourselves; so, I figured, why not research a theory I’ve been wondering about my whole life?

The first study I found referencing the positive effects music-playing can have on people included an experiment containing 30 adults and 27 children, all with differing levels of musical experience. These individuals were observed in order to find a correlation between executive function and the amount of musical training a particular subject had. As discussed in my psychology class, executive function helps control our attention, memory, decision-making, and problem solving. So, in theory, if this study showed (using fMRI) that executive function increased in adults and children that were exposed to music in great quantities, the subjects of the experiment would theoretically be better at school, paying attention, and generally better at decision making.


In this particular study, the musically-inclined adults and children demonstrated that they did, in fact, increase in their performance in measures of language fluency, processing rate, and memory. Since the group of adults and children who frequently were involved in music scored higher on the executive function tests, it can be concluded that the original hypothesis (stating musical training can make individuals perform better in academic settings and heighten their intellectual skills) can be confirmed.


Another source states that musicians hold a greater ability to utilize sensory information from senses such as touch, hearing, and sight (which makes sense, if you think about how musicians read music, play their instrument, and hear the music they make). The source also found that the positive effects of music are most effective if children begin playing an instrument before they reach seven years old.

Yunxin Wang, a Professor at Beijing Normal University, conducted a specific study where 48 Chinese adults (who had a music background) between the ages of 19 and 21 were tested to see what kind of impacts music had on them. These individuals started their training from the ages of 3 – 15, and the study suggested that the individuals who started training earlier had strengthened brain areas tied to verbal and executive functioning. So, for example, the individuals who started playing an instrument before the age of seven usually had a larger cortex in regards to sound processing and positive self-consciousness.

childgutIn conclusion, there are actually quite a few studies that prove playing an instrument improves neural stimulation and aids children in their academic abilities. However, TIME magazine notes that children have to do more than just sit through music lessons and listen to music, TIME states in order for students to gain the positive benefits of playing an instrument, students must engage in class and continuously practice their craft.

Now that I know playing an instrument can aid my intellectual abilities and improve my executive functioning skills, I regret quitting the piano and clarinet. But who knows, maybe the baby grand located in Atherton hall will persuade me to take up the art once again.

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4 thoughts on “There’s a reason why your parents always wanted you to play an instrument

  1. Sarah Elizabeth Read

    Your post made a lot of sense to me! This connection has always made sense to me, but I hadn’t really stepped back to think about how one’s learning of an instrument could correlate with their intelligence in such a way. Your post also got me thinking about the ages at which people learn to play instruments. I began playing the piano at the age of about 5, and my sister at about the age of 7. My younger brother, however, just started with piano lessons this past year at the age of 10. So far, he has surpassed the level at which both me and my sister played at the age of 10. I wonder if it has to do with the age that he started or that he is a boy whereas we are both girls. I think that there could certainly be a confounding variable in terms of this, but it makes me wonder whether his intelligence is beyond where ours was that that age (because of his piano skill). Here is an article I found that discusses beginning music lessons at different ages:

  2. Randall Stansbury

    I found this blog really interesting. I used to play piano when I was younger but I quit after a traumatic recital incident. I wonder if even though I quit some of the things that I learned while learning music stuck with me. I also wonder if this is why they teach things such as the recorder in many elementary/middle school music classes. Here is an article on why they teach music in our school systems .

  3. Alexis Herrington

    I think you did a good job organizing, finding good research, and connecting the results with one study to the next. I also think this topic is a good one to share. I feel as if later year elementary school students, middle-schoolers, are strongly encouraged by teachers and parents to learn how to play a musical instruments because of its many benefits. I’ve always heard that people who play one or multiple instruments are smarter and receive better grades than those who do not. But its not just playing an instruments that can help. Making music a part of your life at a young age is important, it enhances brain development of infants and even is very beneficial to helping blind, deaf, and other disabled people excel. Look here to read more about it:

  4. Pengji Wei

    Hello Rachel. Great topic. And after I read your blog, I found out that it is a huge mistake that I did not continue my piano lessons when I was young. Because when I was in China, I have so much academic works due to the high competitive for the college. So back then I was thinking that probably is a good idea to drop out my piano lesson to save some time. But before I read your blog, I did not realize that playing music can make people perform better at school and make a better decision. Also I did not realize that music can help a people hold a greater ability to utilize the sensory information. So I think this is may explained why people like to listen music while they are doing their homework. And here is a link to show that music can help people focus if that person liked that music.

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