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Academic benefits of music ‘a myth’

Dec. 12: For many parents, music lessons offer a double benefit. Their children are introduced to one of life’s great joys and they stand to get better exam results thanks to the belief that learning an instrument improves academic success.

A study suggests, however, that the claim that studying music improves intelligence is a myth. “There’s a general belief that music is important for these extrinsic reasons, but there is very little evidence supporting the idea that music classes enhance children’s cognitive development,” said Samuel Mehr, a PhD student at Harvard, who led the research.

The idea first gained popularity after a high-profile study identified what the authors called the “Mozart effect”: after listening to music, subjects performed better on spatial tasks.

Though the study was later debunked, subsequent research has shown that musical training can lead to structural changes in the brain. One study published earlier this year suggested that learning an instrument early in life could result in changes in connectivity in the brain that “serve as a scaffold upon which ongoing experience can build”.

The latest research questions whether the changes observed translate into any broader cognitive benefits. The study, published in the journal PLoS One, recruited 74 American parents and their four-year-old children.

Each was randomly assigned to one of two classes. In one, children received music training, while the other focused on visual arts. “We wanted to test the effects of the type of music education that happens in the real world,” said Mehr.

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