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Music and the Brain

The Richards Institute of Education And Research - Music-Brain-Child Development Articles

Music Intelligence Neural Development Institute (MIND Institute)

Music and Brain Development - Exciting!

"Candidates for Development"


Second-Graders in Study Scored Higher than Others on Fractions and Proportional Math

Irvine, Calif. -- Taking piano lessons and solving math puzzles on a computer significantly improves specific math skills of elementary school children, according to a study by UC Irvine researchers.

The results of the study--published in the March issue of the journal Neurological Research--are the latest in a series that link musical training to the development of higher brain functions, said UCI physics professor emeritus Gordon Shaw, who led the study.

Researchers worked with 135 second-grade students at the 95th Street School in Los Angeles after conducting a pilot study with 102 Orange County students. Children given four months of piano keyboard training, as well as time playing with newly designed computer software, scored 27 percent higher on proportional math and fractions tests than other children. The study was funded through grants from the Texaco Foundation, The Gerard Family Trust and Newport Beach philanthropist Marjorie Rawlins.

Piano instruction is thought to enhance the brain's "hard-wiring" for spatial-temporal reasoning, or the ability to visualize and transform objects in space and time, Shaw said. Music involves ratios,
fractions, proportions and thinking in space and time.

At the same time, the computer game--called Spatial-Temporal Animation Reasoning (STAR)--allows children to solve geometric and math puzzles that boost their ability to manipulate shapes in their minds. (Puzzle samples are available upon request.)

Children who took piano lessons and played with the math software performed better on tests of fractions and proportional math than children who took English language instruction on the computer and played with the math software, and better than those who had neither piano lessons nor experience with the math software, Shaw said.  Puzzles in the STAR game allow children to apply the type of mentalacuity that appears to be heightened by piano practice.

The findings are significant because a grasp of proportional math and fractions is a prerequisite to math at higher levels, and children who do not master these areas of math cannot understand more advanced math critical to high-tech fields.

"Proportional math is usually introduced during the sixth grade, and has proved to be enormously difficult to teach to most children using the usual language-analytic methods," Shaw said. "Not only is proportional math crucial for all college-level science, but it is the first academic hurdle that requires the children to grasp underlying concepts before they can master the material. Rote learning simply does not work."

Students who used the software and played the piano also demonstrated a heightened ability to think ahead, Shaw said. "They were able to leap ahead several steps on problems in their heads," he noted.

These findings offer not only new insight into the theory of mental development, but also a potentially powerful teaching tool, capable of stimulating second-grade children to master critical sixth-grade reasoning concepts. The piano teaching and software helped children regardless of income level, boosting achievement of students in low socioeconomic settings.

The study is only the latest in a series linking musical training to the learning process. Prior UCI studies based on a mathematical model of the cortex predicted that early music training would enhance spatial-temporal reasoning, and a 1997 study indicated that preschool children given six months of piano keyboard lessons improved dramatically on such reasoning.

Research participants included Amy Graziano, a postdoctoral researcher in UCI's Department of Physics and Astronomy who designed and coordinated the project, and Matthew Peterson, a former student of Shaw's who is now a doctoral student in the Department of Vision Science at UC Berkeley. Shaw and Peterson administered the program through their non-profit Music Intelligence Neural Development (MIND) Institute in Irvine, and Peterson designed the STAR software.  Graziano and Shaw are both part of the UCI Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, an internationally know n institute dedicated exclusively to the multi-disciplinary investigation of how the brain processes information and makes and stores memories.

The researchers plan to expand the study to six schools this fall to demonstrate its effectiveness in a variety of settings, and are seeking educators in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties who are interested in participating and can furnish a music teacher and computers. They also are developing new written math tests with Michael Martinez, UCI associate professor of education, and preparing materials to integrate piano training and the STAR software into the standard second-grade math curriculum. They eventually would like to apply the findings to the K-12 math and science curriculum, as well.

Shaw also has written a book on the science of music and the brain. "Music Enhances Learning: Keeping Mozart in Mind" (Academic Press) is scheduled for release in May. Shaw is known for his 1993 research that showed college students scored higher on spatial-temporal reasoning tests after listening to a Mozart piano sonata. Dubbed the "Mozart Effect" by media, the phenomenon prompted further interest in research to explore the relationship between music, intelligence and

For more information on the UCI Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, see For more information on the MIND Institute's research, see
  Music - a Catalyst for brain development

(Ellen Winner & Lois Hetland, New York Times, Op Ed, March 4, 1999.)

Carlsbad, CA. With the growing body of scientific evidence suggesting the causal link between music and intelligence, there is a parallel dialogue about the place of music in our schools and in programs of childhood development. The discussion ranges from using music as a tool to reach a greater end such as improved test scores to preserving music as a stand-alone, key component of a well-rounded education.

Upon examination of new programs around the country that both integrate and separate music in curricula, the success of these programs indicates that there is a new awareness that music is profoundly important in its own right but that it can also play a very valuable role as a facilitator in acquiring other competencies.

With respect to the intrinsic value of music in education, two researchers at Project Zero, an arts program at Harvard Graduate School of Education, made the following eloquent statements: "Music, like math, physics and poetry, is an essential part of our culture. Children improve their future lives immeasurably by gaining a deep understanding of its structure and its beauty. This is justification enough for music in our schools."Music - a Catalyst for brain development

Michael Green, President/CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Inc. spoke eloquently on music education during his presentation on the Grammy Awards on Wednesday, February 24, 1999.  Following are excerpts from his speech.

Michael Green:
Good evening folks, and on behalf of the recording academy we hope you're enjoying the forty first annual Grammy awards. There's over a billion of you out there in more than a hundred and eighty countries. You're the fans, you're the music lovers, the main reason that we're all here tonight. . . So from all of us here, to all of you, our partners, a great big thank you.

This partnership between you and the arts grows stronger every year in new and exciting ways. Recent groundbreaking scientific research astounds us, building upon a compelling body of evidence that music is fundamental.

Music is magic. Music therapists prove every single day that music is powerful medicine. Tearing down the walls of silence and affliction of Alzheimer's, depression, Parkinson's and autism. And did you know that kids who study the arts, do an average of forty points higher in math and science? Yep. And that music education is superior to even computer instruction in enhancing early childhood mental capacity and spacial intelligence.

Soon the academy is going to be announcing a groundbreaking nationwide program in support of early childhood development. Seeing to it that mothers of newborns leave the hospital with a very, very special resource kit. It includes education materials, and a classical CD produced specifically to help build the very fertile minds of newborns.

And we're also pleased that the academy had joined with first lady Hilary Rodham Clinton to celebrate the Arts Through Education program. This will ensure that the arts will be made available for every child with special emphasis on those kids who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Because the arts provide self-esteem, self-reliance and instill hope in these very places where hope and dreams are in short, short supply. So let's fight for the arts because the arts advance our society, they speak to the soul, they bring different cultures together, and now we know, they just make us a lot smarter. Music - a Catalyst for brain development

Brain Comes Alive to Sound of Music - Finding offers hope for variety of cures   Music - a Catalyst for brain development
Los Angeles Times, November 11, 1998 (Reprinted in the Sacramento Bee)

The music that makes the foot tap, the fingers snap and the pulse quicken stirs the brain at is most fundamental levels, suggesting that scientists one day may be able to retun damaged minds by exploiting rhythm, harmony and melody, according to new research presented Sunday (November 1998).

Exploring the neurobiology of music, researchers discovered direct evidence that music stimulates specific regions of the brain responsible for memory, motor control, timing and language.  For the first time, researchers also have located specific areas of mental activity linked to emotional responses to music.   . . .

The latest findings, presented at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Los Angeles, underscore how music--as an almost universal language of mood, emotion and desire--orchestrates a wide variety of neural systems to cast its evocative spell.    "Undeniably, there is a biology of music," said Harvard University Medical School neurobiologist Mark Jude Tramo.   "There is no question that there is specialization within the human brain for the processing of music.  Music is biologically part of human life, just as music is aesthetically part of human life." . . .

Overall, music seems to involve the brain at almost every level.  Even allowing for cultural differences in musical tastes, the researchers found evidence of music's remarkable power to affect neural activity no matter where they look in the brain, from primitive regions in all animals to more recently evolved regions thought to be distinctively human.Music - a Catalyst for brain development

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