If you want your child to do better in exams when they’re a teenager, encourage them to learn to play an instrument when they’re younger. At least that’s what one study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, suggests.

In the study, high school students who studied instrumental music scored significantly better results in maths, science and English than those who stayed away from music class. Yet many schools in many countries continue to cut music classes because they are thought to be less important than other subjects such as maths, science and English.

One of the study’s authors Peter Gouzouassis – education professor at the University of British Columbia – says his work proves this idea is wrong, as it shows the more students engage with music, the better they do in other subjects.

“The students who learned to play a musical instrument in elementary and continued playing in high school not only score significantly higher, but were about one academic year ahead of their non-music peers with regard to their English, mathematics and science skills, as measured by their exam grades, regardless of their socioeconomic background, ethnicity, prior learning in mathematics and English, and gender,” he says.

The study analysed information on more than 112,000 students in British Columbia, with qualifying music courses not just including classical but jazz classes and concert band too.

It’s not that surprising when you think about it. As the study’s co-author, University of British Columbia assistant professor Martin Guhn says, learning music teaches you many skills, not just in reading music but also eye-hand-mind co-ordination, listening skills, team skills for playing in an ensemble and discipline to practice. “All those learning experiences, and more, play a role in enhancing the learner’s cognitive capacities, executive functions, motivation to learn in school, and self-efficacy,” he says.

Previous research has linked learning to play music with increased IQ and cognitive skills at all ages. The question is, what instrument should you learn? The harder the instrument, the better the learning is for your brain – Albert Einstein is an example, he played the violin. But don’t take on more than you can chew. Choose an instrument and style that you like and will stick at. Learning to play doesn’t happen overnight, so you’ll need patience too (you’ll very likely develop more as you learn). 

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash