25 December, 2013
From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.
Many people believe that teaching children music makes them smarter, better able to learn new things. But the organizers of a new study say there's no scientific evidence that early musical training affects the intelligence of young people.
An estimated 80 percent of American adults think music lessons improve children's ability to learn or their performance in school. They say that the satisfaction for learning to play a new song helps a child express creativity.
Researchers at Harvard University, however, have found that there's one thing musical training does not do. They say it does not make children more intelligent.
Samuel Mehr is a graduate student at Harvard's School of Education. He said it is wrong to think that learning to play a musical instrument improves a child's intellectual development.
He says the evidence comes from studies that measured the mental ability of two groups of 4-year-olds and their parents. One group attended music class, the other went to a class that places importance on the visual arts -- arts that can be seen.
"The answer there is 'no.' We found no evidence for any advantage on any of these tests for the kids participating in these music classes," said Mehr.
Samuel Mehr says researchers have carried out many studies in an effort to learn whether musical training can make children smarter. He says the results have been mixed. He says only one study seems to show a small percentage increase in IQ, intelligence scores among students after one year of music lessons.
He does not believe that IQ is a good measure of a child's intelligence. He says researchers in his study compared how well children in the music training group did on mental processing tasks or projects, then the results were compared to those of children who did not take lessons.
There was no evidence that the musical training group did much better on the mental tasks than the other group. The researchers confirmed their results with a larger group of children and their parents.
Mr Mehr says music lessons may not offer children a fast easy way to gain entry to the best schools later on in life. But he says the training is still important for cultural reasons. In his words, "We teach music because music is important for us."
He notes that the works of writer William Shakespeare are not taught, so that children will do better in physics. He says Shakespeare is taught because it is important. "And I don't think music needs to be any different than that."
A report on the benefits of musical training in children was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
And that's the Education Report From VOA Learning English. For more news about education, go to our website 51voa.com. I'm Jerilyn Watson.