Does Music Make Children Smarter?

Does Music Make Children Smarter?

Last update: 24 June, 2018

Have you heard of the “Mozart effect”? Does music make children smarter? Do you know where all those claims associating music and intelligence come from? Have you stopped to think about whether it has real scientific basis?

There are many circumstances and activities that probably help boost intelligence in children. Music is one of them, but not the only one. Many studies have tried to establish a link between learning a musical instrument and intelligence. Does that mean that those who do not learn to play an instrument are going to “stay stupid”?

The Baby Mozart project, the cartoon series Little Einsteins and dozens of early stimulation programs have made us believe that music makes children smarter. Classical music has been identified as particularly beneficial, pointing to the works of Mozart as a good reference to follow.

Does music make children smarter? A baby at the piano.

And then we saw — and still see — parents and teachers, even pregnant mothers, playing classical music to their babies and taking their children to music lessons as early as possible, as if they had discovered the secret ingredient of intelligence. The big question is then, has this really worked? Does music make children smarter, in reality?

Well no, or at least not enough to show a great benefit. The idea that playing classical music would make children smarter is still controversial in the light of studies that offer conflicting results.

The study done in 1993 that found that music makes children smarter could not be replicated, nor was an extension of the experiment allowed. That is to say, what they gave us as a scientific study was not truly scientific. However, the idea was a spectacular marketing tool, there’s no doubt it.

Music has many benefits for a child’s brain

We’re not saying that music does not help at all, though. In fact, music has many benefits for children’s brains and also for adult brains. Many studies have focused precisely on looking into the effect that music has on the brain.

It seems that music prepares our brains for certain types of thinking. For example, various studies have found that after listening to classical music, adults can do certain spatial tasks more quickly.

But why does this happen? Apparently, the “classical music pathways” in our brain are similar to the pathways we use for spatial reasoning. Thus, when we listen to classical music, the spacial reasoning pathways will already be “on” and ready to be used.

Listening to classical music beforehand facilitates performing spatial tasks. But the effect lasts only a short period of time. Our improved spatial abilities fade away about an hour after we stop listening to the music.

Father and daughter playing the guitar.

However, learning to play an instrument can have more lasting effects on spatial reasoning. In several studies, children who took piano lessons for six months improved their ability to solve riddles and do spatial tasks by up to 30 percent. Researchers believe that music training creates new pathways in the brain.

It has also been found that children who study music improve auditory processing, as seen in brain scans. This is important because auditory processing skills are fundamental for language development, as well as for the acquisition of a second language and focusing in noisy spaces.

Other research has also found that music can have benefits in cognitive functioning and can also help reduce aggression, increase calmness, reduce stress and improve mood. However, this does not exactly mean that music makes children smarter.

What makes children truly intelligent is …

We can conclude that music benefits children and adults in many ways, but being “smart” or improving in school is probably not one of its greatest benefits. Yes, music helps, but not as much as it seems or at least not as we have been led to believe.

Several studies show that children who attend music classes or receive music education in schools also perform better in intellectual activities. But it is likely that families and schools that invest in their children’s music education and other arts will differ in many ways from families or schools that do not. That is probably the true cause of these observed differences.

Several researchers have tried to replicate past research where they found modest gains in intelligence, intellectual abilities, and academic performance. However, the results of their randomized trials with music education in children did not find that music makes children smarter. Some of these studies actually showed losses.


A pregnant woman with a little girl.

What really matters is playing and talking with our children. Hug them, kiss them, sing to them. Dance with them, read with them, explore with them. Stimulate their creativity and feed their curiosity.

It is love that really makes children smart. It is love that will turn your children into the best version of themselves.

Does music make children smarter? What difference does it make! If what you really want is for your children to be smarter, then spend quality time with them, a lot of time. This is undoubtedly a much more decisive factor than music. Don’t be fooled.


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.