The far-reaching power of music

Research showing the impact of learning a musical instrument on pupils’ wider educational outcomes comes as no surprise to Dr Bernard Trafford

Learning a musical instrument boosts academic results: it’s official! Passionate musicians (including former music teachers like me) have always maintained this. But recent research, reported in The Times, has sought to find out exactly why.

Daniel Müllensiefen, music psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, found that children “learn to be clever” by developing new skills and, above all, a growth mindset. They are less likely to be defeatist and give up. Is this just another piece of research proving the bleeding obvious? No. Even acknowledging my bias, I think finding the proof was worth the effort and cost (£250,000).

Learning a musical instrument involves linear progression par excellence. As students’ skills develop, they tackle increasingly difficult material: without building technique, they can’t progress. Thus, the benefits of something intrinsically dull like learning scales can be seen when the resulting greater facility enables a student to tackle more advanced pieces.

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