Which has a greater impact: music lessons, dance, or sports?

“There are strong differences in terms of cognitive and non-cognitive skills between adolescents who learned a musical instrument during childhood and those who did not.” *

Of course, there are many benefits from participating in dance or sports, but only playing a musical instrument is associated with higher grades and superior cognitive skills.

Compared to children who participate in sports or dance, children who take music lessons have substantially greater gains in several key areas.

  • intellectual development
  • school grades
  • wide interests, being imaginative, & insightful
  • organization, thoroughness, making plans
  • using time wisely

More than twice as much

According to a 2012 German study, the effects of studying a musical instrument are much stronger on cognitive skills, school grades, and conscientiousness, than the effects of sports and dance.

As  a matter of fact, the research found that music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports or dance does. This research finds that improved academic performance truly is a result of musical training.

While the researchers acknowledged benefits of sports and dance, the strong impact of music lessons on cognitive skills was not replicated for children doing sports or dance. This is not to say that children should not participate in sports or dance.  In this study, there certainly are benefits to both activities.

But for substantial cognitive gains, music lessons win.  Why would you want substantial cognitive gains for your young child? Because cognitive development includes such things as information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development, and memory. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Goals of the study

Because the motivation for the research was to know the long-term effects of music training on children, all of the students in this study took lessons for 9 years

They tested for the effects of music training in 5 categories:

  1. cognitive skills
  2. school achievement
  3. personality (openness and conscientiousness)
  4. use of time
  5. ambition

Results of the study

  1. cognitive skills: scores are more than twice as high as what would be obtained from playing sports
  2. school achievement: much higher achievement than those who didn’t take music
  3. personality: much greater in openness [having wide interests, and being imaginative and insightful] and conscientiousness [organized, thorough, and planful] 
  4. time use: 13 % less likely to watch TV every day
  5. ambition: 15 % more likely to plan on obtaining an upper secondary school degree and 18 % more likely to apply to university.

Earlier start, greater results

The study was based on 372 German teens who began to take music lessons outside of school before the age of 8 and continued for 9 years. The control group consisted of about 3000.  Outcomes were measured at age 17.

The effects of beginning to play a musical instrument later than the age of 8 were still positive, but weaker than those of children who start to learn a musical instrument earlier. For those who started later,  the effects on cognitive skills, openness and ambition are still relatively strong, but effects on school marks and conscientiousness were not significant.

A summary of other studies that illustrate the unique benefits of music lessons can be found here.

 Photo credit: takacsi75 / Foter / CC BY

“Parents who recognize their child’s potential ability are good parents.” Shinichi Suzuki

It’s Suzuki Institute time at Stevens Point!

It’s the end of week one for me at Stevens Point, WI, where the American Suzuki Institute is being held at the University of Wisconsin at the Aber Suzuki Center.  With four other Suzuki teachers, I studied Book 8 in the Suzuki series of books.  I know the students in my studio will benefit from the learning I gained from studying under the expertise of our teacher, Carol Dallinger.

The Institutes are always a time and place to get energized, to meet new Suzuki teachers with the same mindset that learning never stops, and to see the hundreds of students and parents enjoying the benefits of this experience.


We were very fortunate to study with Carol Dallinger this week.  The ASI website reports that Carol Dallinger “is currently the Oramay Cluthe Eades Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Evansville where she has been a member of the faculty since 1972. She is also founder and coordinator of the University of Evansville Suzuki Violin Program. Ms. Dallinger has lectured at both state and national music conferences and, as a registered teacher trainer with the Suzuki Association of the Americas, frequently serves as clinician for summer institutes throughout the United States. She is a former member of the National Board of Directors of the Suzuki Association. Professor Dallinger holds a Bachelor of Music in performance from Illinois Wesleyan University and a Master of Music in performance from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. She currently teaches courses in applied violin, applied viola, music theory, and Suzuki violin pedagogy.”

Ms. Dallinger is an excellent teacher’s teacher!  She even modeled for us what we should do if we break a finger.  ~You just keep on, keepin’ on.~  Thank you, Ms. Dallinger for your expertise, guidance, and inspiration.


I am also looking forward to this coming week when I will be studying “The Development of Bowing Techniques” with Alice Joy Lewis, founder and Director of Ottawa Suzuki Strings in Kansas.  Mrs. Lewis is also the mother of Brian Lewis, professional violinist and well-known pedagogue.

Was our brain wired first for music or for language?

What Came First: Music or Language?

Our brains may be “wired” first for music.  But the music part of the brain is also the language part.  Could it be that we are made for music?  And language is just an interesting add-on?

Charles Limb, an otolaryngological surgeon at Johns Hopkins and a faculty member of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, decided to map what was happening in the brains of musicians as they played.

What the research team did

An article in the Atlantic, reports that Dr. Limb put a musician in a functional MRI machine with a keyboard where the man played a memorized piece of music followed by a made-up piece of music as part of a jazz improvisation with another musician in a control room.

What the researcher team found

They found that the brains of musicians who are engaged with other musicians in spontaneous improvisation show a lot of activity in the same brain areas traditionally associated with spoken language and syntax.

In other words, improvisational jazz conversations “take root in the brain as a language,” Limb said.

“If the brain evolved for the purpose of speech, it’s odd that it evolved to a capacity way beyond speech,” Limb said. “So a brain that evolved to handle musical communication—there has to be a relationship between the two. I have reason to suspect that the auditory brain may have been designed to hear music and speech is a happy byproduct.”

Dr. Lamb’s Ted Talk about this topic is available here.

Photo credit: Jan Krömer / Foter / CC BY-ND

“It turns out that playing a musical instrument is important.” Nina Kraus

Keep Cool? An Ice Violin!

July in Virginia

Here is one way to cool down.

In Luleå, Sweden, musicians play instruments created from blocks of ice. Photos in the article at  Mother Nature Network show that  the ice instruments are fragile.  The strings you see in the photos are holding the instruments to the ceiling to protect them from body heat.

  • I wonder what breathing on an instrument would do to it?
  • I wonder why the violinist’s chin doesn’t melt the violin?
  • What questions does your child have about playing ice music?
  • About making an ice instrument?
  • About sitting in an ice concert hall?
Your children would love to see the igloo constructions where the musicians play.  It is a concert hall made of ice in Luleå’s Gültzauudden nature park.

It would be fun to look on a map or globe with your child to see where Luleå is.  So what does subarctic climate mean?  Wikipedia says Luleå is in a subarctic climate which has short, mild to warm summers and long, cold, snowy winters.

What climate does Virginia have?  A humid continental climate.  That ice hall looks inviting on hot days in Virginia.

The Voice of Water documentary film is about–well, look for yourself!  Just browsing their Facebook page and The Voice of Water website makes July in Virginia seem cooler.

“Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.” William Shakespeare

Da da da dum! Beethoven!

Tom Service writes about music for the British newspaper, the Guardian. In this video, he points out characteristics of Beethoven that are amusing, entertaining, and educational.  Service’s description of Beethoven: “wild eyes, crazy hair, deaf and the single monument of classical music.”

You will enjoy hearing bits of typical Beethoven mixed in with Service’s descriptions.

Service gives interesting tidbits:  Beethoven’s father tried to “pass him off as a 7-year-0ld when he was actually a teenager” so the young man would be thought of as a protégée.

Watch and learn something about his music that you might not have thought of before.

Planning on learning more about a composer this summer?  Use this video for a good resource.

Photo credit: favitia / Foter / CC BY

Only the pure in heart can make good soup.  Ludwig van Beethoven

Happy Fourth of July!


It’s Independence Day!

A good day for march music with a little levity.

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is the “guest” conductor of the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall stage. He conducts “America’s Orchestra” playing John Philip Sousa’s, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”  This march was made the official march of the United States of America since 1987 by an Act of the U.S. Congress.

Check out the PBS’ Capitol Fourth here to learn when and why Sousa composed this march.

Find Fourth of July festivities in Northern Virginia at dullesmoms.com or dc.about.com.

Photo credit: shino 誌野 / Foter / CC BY

“Children learn to smile from their parents.”  Shinichi Suzuki