Studies have delivered uneven results on whether learning to play music improves cognitive abilities in children. While some say it does, others disagree. Now, from a meta-analysis, researchers from Fujita Health University in Japan and the London School of Economics have found that while musical training may improve social skills and self-esteem, it doesn't improve children's academic performance.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 54 studies conducted between 1986 and 2019 on 6,984 children to see whether musical training really enhanced cognitive or academic skills.
From the meta-analysis, they found that learning how to play music had no effect in enhancing cognitive ability or academic skills such as verbal, non-verbal, and speed-related skills. The age of participants and the duration of music training also had no effect on these abilities.
However, the researchers noticed that studies that included active controls ie. children who learned skills such as dance and sport instead of music tended to show that musical training had no impact on cognitive or academic performance. Meanwhile, those under lower-quality conditions ie. without control groups, tended to find small positive effects in cognitive and academic performance.
"Our study shows that the common idea that 'music makes children smarter' is incorrect." says Giovanni Sala, the lead author of the study. "On the practical side, this means that teaching music with the sole intent of enhancing a child's cognitive or academic skills may be pointless."
"While the brain can be trained in such a way that if you play music, you get better at music, these benefits do not generalize in such a way that if you learn music, you also get better at maths. Researchers' optimism about the benefits of music training appears to be unjustified and may stem from misinterpretation of previous empirical data."