Playing an Instrument Won’t Make Your Kid Smarter

Music can, however, boost children’s creativity and teach them important life skills such as discipline and concentration—but so can other hobbies

Photo: Andrew Yee

Mastering an instrument is an impressive skill. It can also boost children's creativity and teach them important life skills such as discipline and concentration, the Harvard Gazette writes. What playing an instrument won't do, however, is make you smarter.

While parents and fans of the arts have long insisted that with musical aptitude comes heightened intelligence, new research shows this just is not so. This misconception first arose when researchers erroneously reported that listening to music boosted cognitive skills; the leap to assuming it also boosted intelligence was an easy one to make. Although that original research was later refuted, the idea that listening to or making music makes us smarter remained, the Gazette explains.

In the new study, researchers divided 29 four-year-olds into two groups, one that learned music and another that practiced arts and crafts over the next year. All of the children were tested for intelligence and musical aptitude before the study began, and the same teacher taught both the music and the art class. At the end of the study period, the kids were again given a battery of tests. The music group performed just slightly better in one spatial task than the art group, but the art group made up for it by slightly outperforming the music group in another task.

Just to be sure of their results, they repeated the same study again with 45 different children, but again found no significant differences in intelligence after the kids went through their classes. So while music might inspire kids' creativity and boost their confidence, it probably doesn't make them any smarter. And as Quartz points out, those positive gains can also be acquired through other hobbies, like sports, dance, art or chess. So rather than force kids to sit at the piano for an hour every day, perhaps it's better if we let them find music—and the joy it can bring, if the learner actually loves it—on their own.

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