Does Music Make Your Child Smarter?

(by Carmen Ziarkowski)

Recent articles have convinced many in the public that listening to a few minutes of Mozart or other complex music daily will increase your child's IQ. Before we delve into this belief we need to first see what one's IQ really means and does it really measure one's mental abilities? What is the I.Q. Test?

An Intelligence Quotient measures the ability of a person to function in complex social situations relative to others of the same age using questions that test one's skills, mental abilities and academic achievements. An IQ test gives a good overall view of an individual's general intelligence. In other words, the Intelligence Quotient Test (IQ) is the "mental" age divided by one's chronological age.

It has been shown that there is a strong correlation between IQ levels and the speed at which one processes information. The following are guidelines used by educators when dealing with gifted children. (Interestingly, 68 percent of the population scores an IQ within the interval of 85-115. MG - Moderately Gifted (IQ 130 - 145) (2 standard deviations from the mean)

HG - Highly Gifted = (IQ 145 - 160) (3 standard deviations from the mean)

EG - Extremely Gifted = (IQ 160 - 180) (4 standard deviations from the mean)

PG - Profoundly Gifted = (IQ 180+) (5 or more standard deviations from the mean)

(One standard deviation is 15 points)

It is no secret that integrating an "arts" program into your school schedule has far reaching implications. Across the board and without exception, studies have drawn conclusions that implementing arts into your school day improves the performance of your children across all other academic subjects. In particular math scores improve substantially when children are exposed to music over a period of time. While we can't promise an IQ of 180 the following is a list of some of the research done with music.

What listening to music has shown

The following studies used instrumental music, which included classical, "easy listening" or familiar melodies.

In one particular study, 21% of eighth grade music students from low economic households scored high in math compared to 11% of non-music low economic households. By grade 12, these figures were 33% and 16%, respectively.

In another study by the same experimenters, it was noted "… that children are more engaged and cognitively involved in school when the arts are part of, or integrated into, the curriculum.

Students (six to nine year olds) dramatically improve reading and language development as they were exposed to music while learning new words 1

In a study reported in Nature, five to seven year olds were subject to a seven month training period where their visual -spatial abilities were assessed. The results suggested that music improved reading and math skills which motivated the children to move on to more difficult tasks to acquire other difficult skills. 2

Children who take music lessons (keyboard in this study) improve spatial-temporal areas of the brain. The study compared children who took computer lessons with children who took piano lessons. The results demonstrated in the children who took piano lessons, there was an improvement in the neural circuitry in locations in the brain that are not associated with music. It was proposed that curricula which rely upon spatial-temporal reasoning such as mathematics and science could greatly improve by exposure to music. 3

Sleep improves and pain decreases in post-operative subjects as a result of music intervention on patients after surgery. 4

College students who had been given musical training before the age of 12 significantly remembered more vocabulary words than those students who had no music training.5

Having music in the background while one studies greatly improves ability to recall the information studied. 6

Music improves exercise. A study reported in the International Journal of Sports Medicine indicates that there is a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and amount of lactic acid secreted in subjects who exercised on a treadmill while listening to music. This decrease indicates that music may reduce muscle tension and stress while exercising. 7

A study was undertaken at the University of Sweden where 12,675 people (ages 16-74) were tested in 1982 and again in 1992. Other variables were studied as well. As expected those who partook in smoking and lack of exercise had higher mortality rates. It was found that those who participated in cultural events such as music or reading and/or played an instrument (or sang) greatly improved their health and longevity. 8

There seems to be a connection between heavy metal/rap and psychosocial turmoil. According to a report in the journal, Adolescence, the authors studied the relationship between listening to heavy metal/ rap and poor behavior. Their conclusions pointed to the thought that heavy metal/rap led to poor behavior and psychological problems at home and in society. More research is needed on this study because it could be that this behavior leads to listening to this kind of music and not the reverse. 9

What is the Mozart Effect?

In 1993, an experiment10 was done where college students were asked to listen to Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos, K 488) before taking a spatial IQ Test. The study was repeated in 1995 with the same clinicians with the exact results. As a result of these two experiments much misinformation regarding the Mozart Effect permeated throughout the public. Listening to ten minutes a day of Mozart will not necessarily make your child's SAT math scores jump 100 points. It will not necessarily allow your child to win on neither Jeopardy nor your state's chess tournaments.

The following excerpt is taken from The Mozart Effect: A Small Part of the Big Picture by Norman M. Weinberger

In 1993, Frances Rauscher, Gordon Shaw and Katherine Ky asked whether brief exposure to certain music could increase a cognitive ability. Thirty-six college students were divided into three groups which spent ten minutes in one of three conditions: listening to (1) a piano sonata by Mozart (sonata for two pianos in D, K 448), (2) a tape of relaxation instructions or (3) silence. They were then tested on spatial/temporal reasoning. The measurements of spatial/temporal (S/T) reasoning were obtained using subtests from a standard intelligence battery (group) of tests, the Stanford-Binet Test. The important subtest was a paper folding and cutting task (PF/C). The subject has to imagine that a single sheet of paper has been folded several times and then various cut-outs are made with a scissors. The task is to correctly predict the pattern of cut-outs when the paper is unfolded.

The results? The authors found significantly higher scores for the Mozart group than for the relaxation or the silence groups. The differences translated into spatial IQ scores for the Mozart group that were 8-9 points higher than the other two groups. However, the effect was very brief; it did not last beyond 10-15 minutes

The authors did not say that the effects would be limited to Mozart's music but did think that the benefits to Spatial Temporal reasoning would require complex rather than repetitive music. However no further definitions of complexity were presented. Also, the authors did not claim that the effects would be found for other aspects of intelligence, such as verbal reasoning or short-term memory, but suggested that these be tested.

What listening to Mozart's piece (K488) did was to "temporarily" increase in spatial IQ (reasoning.) The following is a concise definition of spatial: Spatial abilities are the perceptual and cognitive abilities that enable a person to deal with spatial relations, in other words the visualization and orientation of objects in space. Put simply spatial skills assess your ability to manipulate 3D objects by flipping and rotating them.

Spatial intelligence questions test raw intelligence without the influence of prior knowledge and as such performance on this scale is indicative of general intelligence. At a first glance, such questions may appear daunting but the trick is not to give up too quickly. Often a second look at the problem will reveal a different approach, and a solution will appear because the brain has been given the opportunity to process information further.

This study has caused much public confusion. While the results of this study did not prove that listening to Mozart for ten minutes a day will increase your child's IQ by 10 or more points, it did demonstrate that there was a temporary increase in the capacity for spatial skills acquisition involving short-term memory. There was no meaningful long-lasting increase in intelligence. For any real benefits from music one must be involved in music study and/or music making.

The following results were reported by Drs. Judith Burton, Robert Horowitz and Hal Abeles, of the Center for Arts Education Research at Columbia University . This study included 2,046 children in grades 4, 5, 7, and 8 in 12 public schools in New York , Connecticut , Virginia and South Carolina . (These are just some of the findings for a more thorough look and detailed observations please refer to references below.)

Music influences: Expression: better able to express their thoughts and ideas to teachers and peers and to do so in different ways.

Risk-taking: they were more willing to take a risk, showing an increased willingness to try new things, use new materials and approaches, even at the risk of failing; more willing to risk expressing their own novel ideas to peers and parents

Cooperation: they worked better with peers and with teachers

Synthesis: better at unifying divergent thoughts, feeling and facts

Higher self-concept in reading, math and general academics

Teachers rated them as having more self-confidence.

Solutions: a greater number of ideas or approaches to solve problems

Originality: more innovative approaches to solving problems

Elaboration: mentally constructing more detail in formulating solutions

Resistance to Closure: tendency to keep an open mind, to avoid rushing to premature judgments or being satisfied too quickly with a possible solution

The ability to express ideas and feelings opening and thoughtfully.

The ability to form relationships among different items and arrange them to solve problems. The ability to imagine a problem from different points of view and work toward a resolution.

The ability to organize thoughts and ideas into meaningful units.

The ability to engage in sustained and focused attention.


As shown by many research studies, instrumental, classical (and in some cases music you are familiar with, excluding heavy metal or rap) music influences positively cognitive development; language development, reading-readiness and reading; verbal abilities; abstract conceptual thinking and reasoning; creativity and originality; memory; play improvisation; motor development and coordination; positive attitudes toward school, improved personal and social adjustment and stress reduction. To see any results one must dedicate time and energy into pursuing music.


1 Bygrave, P.L. (1995-1996). Development of receptive vocabulary skills through exposure to music. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education no. 127, Winter, pg. 28-34]

2 Nature 381, 284 ( 23 May 1996 ) Scientific Correspondence (from the Nature Archive: January 1987 - December 1996)

3 Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G.L., Levine, L.J., Wright, E.L., Dennis, W.R., Newcomb, R.L. (1997). Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children's spatial-temporal reasoning. Neurological Research, 19: 2-8.

4 Zimmerman, L., Nieveen, J., Barnason, S., Schmaderer, M. (1996). The effects of music interventions on postoperative pain and sleep in coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) patients. Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice, Summer, 10:171-174.

5 Chan, A.S., Ho, Y-C. & Cheung, M-C. (1998). Music training improves verbal memory. Nature, 396:128.

6 Cockerton, T., Moore , S., & Norman, D. (1997). Cognitive test performance and background music. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 85:1435-1438.

7 Szmedra, L., & Bacharach, D.W. (1998) Effect of music on perceived exertion, plasma lactate, norepinephrine and cardiovascular hemodynamics during treadmill running. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 19:32-37.

8 British Medical Journal, 1996, vol. 313, pgs. 1577-1580

9 Kevin J. took and David S. Weiss, 1994, Adolescence, 29: 613-621

10 Rauscher, F.H., Shaw, G.L. and Ky, K.N. (1993) Music and spatial task performance. Nature, 365:611.

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