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Boosting the Brain with Music Education: The Importance of Including Music in Your Homeschool

Image of a brain made up of music notes with words above and below it in teal-colored boxes that say Boosting the Brain with Music Education

“For anyone to grow up complete, music education is imperative.“
Paul Harvey

In our highly technological world, we are told to focus on STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.

And to prove to the world that we are not making a mistake in homeschooling our children, we homeschool parents may be concerned about the academic side of our children’s education.

So why would we want to add music and fine arts to our children’s education?

This is exactly what David Kearns, now retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Xerox Corporation, asks and answers:

“Why arts in education? Why education at all? The purpose of education is not simply to inform but to enrich and enlighten, to provide insights into life as it has been led and as it may be led. No element of the curriculum is better suited to that task than arts education.”

And why? Because music boosts your child’s brain power in ALL area of academics!

How does music help boost and develop our children’s brains in academic and cognitive abilities?

1. Music boosts language processing such as reading and writing and comprehension.

Just as language has patterns of letters, words, phrases, and sentences, so does music. Music also imitates conversation: phrases include questions and answers, silence, listening, and response.  So as a child is exposed to the structure of music, language and communication patterns are reinforced.  For example, a child will not stutter when singing, because of the structure of the music puts the words into a predictable time format.

Also, becoming proficient in playing a musical instrument enhances the way the brain processes parts of spoken language as a 2005 study out of Stanford University shows. Thus, students who struggle with reading and language skills may especially profit from musical training.

2. Music augments math skills.

Reading music includes learning quarter, half, and whole notes, which are essentially fractions. When a student is learning rhythm, he or she is also learning to count, and not just counting numbers, but the music student is using logic to count out the rhythms and bars as he or she progresses through the piece. Music requires the student to perform mathematical processes (like division) on the fly. There are many musical concepts which have mathematical counterparts.

Research also shows a link between music education and success in school math. For example, a study by The Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada, showed that students in the arts program “scored significantly higher on mathematical tests of computation and estimation” than did students in a control group.

Sheet of a music school with a simple score with the basic notes

3. Music helps with analysis, critical thinking, and reasoning.

The pinnacle of development is cognitive reasoning.  Children are reading, then writing, and ultimately thinking for themselves.  We want them to be able to become responsible adults who contribute to society and forge new technology and relationships for our progress as a civilization.  This cognitive level of development begins in the teen years.

In music, reading and writing are the means of expression.  As one can read music, one can participate in higher levels of music-making, understanding not only the notes on a page but the genre of the piece, the nuances of expression, etc.  One can analyze the structure of music and which notes make up the chords.  Ultimately one will be able to write new music as well.

Students who have early musical training will develop the areas of the brain related to language and reasoning. The left side of the brain is better developed with music, and songs can help imprint information on young minds.

4. Music is a powerful tool for memorization.

Of course, the best way to memorize something is using a song or rhythm. Think of the ABC song. We start our children in memorizing the most basic facts of language – with a song. Also, for example, my children have memorized the full Westminster Shorter Catechism of 107 questions to songs I wrote. That’s a lot of information, but music made it easy and enjoyable to memorize.

Memorizing music pieces for performance also correlates with verbal memory skills – that is, memorizing music improves non-musical memory too.

This is backed up by a study from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, which found that children who had begun or continued music training demonstrated significant verbal memory improvement after a year.

A study at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, Canada, revealed that children who received music training demonstrated greater improvement on memory tests over the course of a year than students who did not participate in music training. Takako Fujioka, who co-authored the study, explains that playing music “requires the brain to solve the problems of how to allocate attention and memory toward complex tasks.”

So music boosts the brain’s ability to memorize!

5. Music enhances general academic success and test scores.

Since music contributes to kids’ language, math, critical thinking, and memory skills, it is no surprise to find a clear connection between music and general academic success.

According to a study published in 2007 from the University of Kansas, pupils in elementary schools with high-quality music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with inferior music programs.

Also, high school students in music programs have overall higher scores on the SAT than students who do not participate in music according to the College Board.

A 1994 survey also revealed that music majors, as a group, had the highest acceptance rate to medical school.

6. Music keeps the brain active.

Overall, participation in music grows the brain and keeps it active as it develops more neural pathways.

Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University, says,

“There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain.”

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Now you CAN help your child learn about classical music and great composers without hours of planning, even if your only experience with music is playing the radio!

INTRODUCING The Composer Detective: Helping homeschool moms and kids investigate the lives and music of some of the world’s great orchestral composers!

Non-academic Benefits of Music:

Equally and perhaps more importantly, music affects the brain in non-academic areas as well, which help us and our children to become better people.

Ani Patel, an associate professor of psychology at Tufts University and the author of Music, Language, and the Brain, says,

“If we know how and why music changes the brain in ways that affect other cognitive abilities, this could have a real impact on the value we put on it as an activity in the schools, not to mention all the impact it has on emotional development, emotional maturity, social skills, stick-to-itiveness, things we typically don’t measure in school but which are hugely important in a child’s ultimate success.”

What are these other areas which music is also developing in the brain?

1. Music boosts listening skills.

This can be an integral part of all the above academic skills because listening and auditory processing are so important in increasing attention span, discerning what is noise and what is important sound, acquiring language for both understanding and speaking, understanding sounds of language such as phonemes for reading readiness and proficiency, processing rhythms which boost math skills, etc.

Auditory processing involves multiple brain systems so we can respond appropriately to the sounds.

2. Music motivates motor skills and movement.

As the ear is the control center for the two functions of listening and the vestibular apparatus, which controls balance, there is an intimate psychophysical involvement between sound, hearing and listening (the ear’s cochlear function) and movement in terms of balance, position and posture (the ear’s vestibular function).  Children by nature move constantly, music obviously is a motivating factor in motor development, for the natural response to music is to move to it.  When young children hear a song with a strong beat I often see them do this little dance of bouncing up and down.  They are developing their brains with internalizing a sense of beat. 

Music provides structure for movement, for the beat serves as an endpoint for movement and a rhythmic cue, is an outside source of pacing and provides auditory feedback.  Music and movement activities also provide kinesthetic learning opportunities as the child experiences the body move, builds muscular movement memory, focuses on “feeling” aspects of creative expression, finds aid in recall and in understanding language and events, and is stimulated participation.  Further, music and movement activities are the foundation for cognitive learning, and aid in the development of: purposeful movement, impulse control, gross and fine motor coordination and eye-hand coordination, spatial concepts, and problem solving.

Also, “physical movement helps children develop an internal sense of ‘beat’ that seems to correlate with reading and math abilities,” says Jane M. Healy in Endangered Minds.  And this is not merely hearing but feeling the beat.  Steady beat activities are important because they provide a sense of security (from in the womb, babies are used to hearing the sound of the mother’s heart beat and breathing), order a child’s world and provide structure, develop the aural/motor connection, and are the basis for developing rhythm.

3. Music promotes social skills.

Ah, yes, that question we all get as homeschoolers – what about socialization? And I know I am not so concerned about the kind of socialization that goes on in the government schools with peer pressure, social justice agendas and rebellion, but being a productive member of society with concerns for others and sensitivity to the needs of others is important.

Music is an opportunity for people to work together to create something beautiful, whether it is unison singing or diverse parts that form exquisite harmonies.  Music gives the chance to learn positive social interaction through taking turns, listening and expressing.  Ensemble activities are also important because they develop creative expression, impulse control and concentration (as one focuses on one’s part), communication, and understanding of parts and phrases in music.

Image of four musicians, a string quartet, including composer Joseph Haydn rehearsing while a standing man watches over their shoulders and a few women sit to the side and watch.

4. Music enhances emotional expression.

Music can be an important outlet for expressing ourselves.  Music is “the ultimate mood enhancer for emotional balance.” As Hans Christian Andersen, the famous fairy tale writer said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” 

There is something beyond words in music that makes us turn to it. That is why there is a field called music therapy and why many of us turn to listening to a favorite song for comfort or stress relief or to playing an instrument for an emotional outlet.  Music (classical or not) can make us feel better or offer motivation for a long drive or working out. Music can shape our emotional experience and our subconscious narrative, much like a soundtrack in a movie. When our children study music and connect with it, they will have a powerful, life-long resource for emotional well-being!

5. Music develops creative expression.

Music fosters kids’ creativity which can have an impact on their futures. The Arts Education Partnership states, “Employers identify creativity as one of the top five skills important for success in the workforce (Lichtenberg, Woock, & Wright, 2008).” The partnership also reports that originality and flexibility are benefits of music education because music involves creativity and innovation. Also, graduates from music programs testify that creativity, teamwork, communication, and critical thinking are skills required in their work, no matter whether they are working in music or in other professions.

6. Music boosts success in life.

Children who have had music training also reach higher levels of long-term success in areas such as educational achievements and income.

A 2007 poll by Harris Interactive shows that nearly nine out of ten people with a post-graduate education and 83 percent of those with incomes of $150,000 or more had had a music education.

The College Board’s 2006 study also found that students who had participated in an orchestra or band in high school accounted for the lowest lifetime and current use of alcohol or drugs.

Ideally we want our children to experience “success” throughout life itself. The benefits may be psychological, spiritual and physical and with the challenge of making life meaningful and fulfilled and to reach a higher state of development by participating in music we develop self expression which in turn leads to self esteem – ultimately helping us to succeed at these challenges.

“Casals says music fills him with the wonder of life and the ‘incredible marvel’ of being a human. Ives says it expands his mind and challenges him to be a true individual. Bernstein says it is enriching and ennobling. To me, that sounds like a good cause for making music an integral part of every child’s education. Studying music and the arts elevates children’s education, expands students’ horizons, and teaches them to appreciate the wonder of life.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley


Music is a powerful tool and as seen can dramatically improve and enrich everybody. It makes sense to push music education and to allow young generations to gain these wonderful benefits – higher intelligence through increased creative thinking, problem solving and physically stronger brains, a higher perception of life including better attitudes, strong desires to achieve and fulfill and higher self esteem, better developed discipline, study skills, concentration, communication and team skills which transfer from education through to career and a better understanding of communities and society.

So where does this leave us? What should you do with all this information? Why, involve your child in music, of course!

How can you add music education to your homeschool easily to enjoy all these brain-boosting benefits?

1. Do it out on your own.

As homeschool moms, I know a lot of us love to research. You can go to the library for books, search for YouTube videos of recordings, and do all the work on your own, But you may not feel adequate or want to put in the time. While you might be able to do research to study about the orchestra, composers, different genres of music, etc, it you don’t have a music background, you will not be able to teach your child an instrument.

2. Enroll in classes or private lessons.

I totally recommend if this is at all possible for you.

3. Enroll in an online music classes.

These will greatly enhance private lessons or are an alternative until you can afford lessons.

I would love to invite you to join me in The Composer Detective, a music appreciation course for families or in Making Music with Handel, a music fundamentals and tin whistle instruction course!

Whichever choice you make, DO INCLUDE MUSIC IN YOUR HOMESCHOOL!

Music is not just entertainment. It is essential in education.

“Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education, and children should be taught music before anything else.”

Image of lady who is a teacher and five students at a table clapping and looking at a xylophone. Above in a gold and purple box are the words Boosting the Brain with Music Education

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