Guest Blog: Extracurricular Music in Relation to Academic Achievement

A little variety is always nice, so today we are posting an article by guest blogger Joy Paley, who writes for My Dog Ate My Blog. While education is a large part of From the Top’s core values, this post touches on a subject that we don’t often talk about – music as it relates to academic achievement. Joy has some interesting observations and insights about current research in this area. We hope you enjoy!

Most people don’t take up music as a way to guarantee success in other areas of their life. The fun and satisfaction of becoming good at an instrument is reward enough. Similarly, parents may involve their kids in music at a young age to ensure that they’re well rounded and become exposed to a wide variety of activities, so that they are sure to find their true calling.

Recent research, however, is continuing to praise the ability of musical education to churn out students who excel in many areas besides music—students who are highly motivated, intelligent, and college bound. While politicians and school boards might not listen to the argument for pushing musical education on its own terms, maybe they’ll listen to these arguments for music as a predictor of academic success.

Cultivating the Skills that Lead to Success

It makes common sense that the life skills you learn through practicing an instrument—motivation, perseverance, and determination—would spill over into other parts of students’ lives. Several studies have shown high correlations between higher attainment and musical education for students of different grade levels and backgrounds. One study of 13,000 high school students showed that music students also had higher grades in math, English, science, and social studies. Another study found that average SAT scores were 84 points higher for students involved in music education.

Improving Intellectual Abilities

Why would musical education correlate with better grades? One explanation is the observable effect that it can have on students’ brains and their thinking abilities. In recent research on children, studying music made them better at distinguishing between different phonemes and tones—skills that make them better, more literate readers. The neural processes used to decipher music are similar to those that process language, leading to increased linguistic abilities. And reading isn’t the only area that’s affected: math seems to be improved by musical exposure as well. In one study of eighth graders, three groups of students were compared, those with high, moderate, and no musical training. The longer the students had been taking music lessons, the better their math scores. While scientists still aren’t sure how music influences math performance, many studies have confirmed these same results.

Boosting Self-Esteem

There’s one facet of success and high achievement that is often overlooked: the necessity of self-esteem, confidence, and a general sense of well-being. Students who do not have the vision or belief in themselves to shoot for more difficult goals won’t be high achievers, no matter how much raw intelligence they have.

One study showed that musical education improved students’ sociality—making them more likely to talk with their parents and their teachers, which is a correlator to self-esteem. Others have shown that students who participate in music generally have higher self-perception and confidence, even students from low socio-economic backgrounds or difficult home situations. Musical participation at school can also lead to more friendships and a greater sense of belonging, increasing students’ positive attitude towards school and life in general.

Well, there you have it: music seems to be the ultimate form of studying. Practicing is enjoyable (most of the time), and manifests itself in pupils who are more motivated and highly achieving. It improves intellectual abilities and boosts one’s overall sense of self in a way that being cooped up in the library cannot. For all students out there who are wondering if their hard work is worth it—it probably is, at least if you’re interested in getting into a great college. For educators and administrators who wonder if it’s worth the cost to employ a music teacher: are you kidding? Consider them a cost-effective way to turn your school into a place with higher test scores and more alums at impressive institutions of higher learning.

Joy Paley studied Science, Technology, and Society at Stanford University and currently resides in Berkeley, California. She is a guest blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog and a writer on Online Universities for Guide to Online Schools.