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Why music is so important

The benefits of music (academic literature review)

Taken from the government report: The importance of music


Music can make a powerful contribution to the education and development of children, having benefits which range from those that are largely academic to the growth of social skills and contribution to overall development. It is a unique form of communication that can change the way pupils feel, think and act. Ofsted say that children’s involvement in music engages and re-engages pupils, increasing their self esteem, and maximising their progress in education and not just in music (33).

Music education is not just for those who go on to have careers in music. Some schools place a greater emphasis on music’s importance than others. For example, 65% of pupils in independent schools and 62% of pupils at grammar schools achieved A* or A in GCSE music, compared with just 26% in maintained mainstream schools. This means that while all pupils are receiving some music education, many are not realising the full benefits which music can deliver.

The academic value of music – the evidence

Research has shown a direct link between music and improved reading ability in children. It shows that pupils who were given certain types of music instruction had improved reading comprehension compared to those who did not (34). Greatest improvement was seen when teaching was tailored to pupils’ existing skills and abilities – for example if reading and language skills are of a high standard initially, more advanced musical education may be needed to have an impact on it (35). There is also evidence that music education can have a significant effect on the reading ability of pupils who had been experiencing difficulties (36), particularly teaching associated with rhythm. In addition, studies have shown that music instruction improved pupils’ ability to remember words and so improve their vocabulary (37), and also enhance language development (38) .

Evidence also suggests a link between mathematics and music, but there needs to be a stronger match between the skills being used – for example some types of music education can encourage improvement in some elements of maths more effectively than others. Studies have also shown a connection between music and increased scores in IQ (39). In both cases it is rhythmic music training that has been shown to make the greatest improvement (40). Other studies have demonstrated a link between music and creative skills, particularly musical improvisation and lessons which require children to be imaginative (41) .

The social value of music – the evidence

 A number of studies have demonstrated the positive impact music can have on personal and social development, including increased self reliance, confidence, self-esteem, sense of achievement and ability to relate to others (42) .


Other studies have shown different benefits from participating in music groups and needing to work together towards a common goal, for example school bands. These include discipline, teamwork, cooperation, self confidence, responsibility and social skills (43) .

 These studies have focused on young people who are already engaged and enjoying music, rather than those who are not. There are a number of other factors which might determine whether involvement in music is a positive experience for children that enables them to realise these benefits, including quality of teaching, the type of music studied and whether or not it is a successful and rewarding experience (44) .


What this means for teaching

The evidence suggests that for children to get the most from music education, it needs to be enjoyable, challenging and also achievable. It needs to be supportive and provide space for children to be creative, and include group activity to help build social skills.

Music is a valuable academic subject, as well as being important for the wider benefits outlined above, for those who will go on to have careers in music and for those who pursue it for enjoyment.

33 Making more of music: an evaluation of music in schools 2005/08, Ofsted, February 2009.
34 Hallam ‘The power of music: its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people’
35 Hallam ‘The power of music: its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people’
36 Nicholson, 1972; Long, 2007; Thomson, 1993 and Overy, 2000
37 Chan et al, 1998
38 Sylvain Moreno et al, Short-Term Music Training Enhances Verbal Intelligence and Executive Function, Psychological Science, September 2011, 0956797611416999.
39 For example, Schellenberg, 2004
40 Rauscher, 2009
41 Koutsoupidou and Hargreaves, 2009
42 Spychiger, et al, 1993; Zulauf, 1993; Harland, 2000
43 Brown, 1980; Hallam and Prince, 2000
44 Hallam ‘The power of music: its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people’