Summary of International Research into the Benefits of Music Education

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Aesthetic development

Music provides the opportunity for aesthetic experiences. An aesthetic knowledge can be described as a deep perceptual understanding in which the senses, the emotions and cognition are combined to make meaning through the experiences of creating, making and interpreting aesthetic forms.[1]

Personal, Social, Cultural Expression and Identity Formation

Music through performance and creative experiences provides a means for personal expression, communication and personal, social and cultural identity formation.[2]

Music provides an opportunity to experience and differentiate emotional responses.[3]

Music contributes to students’ personal well-being through developing self-image, self-confidence, self-esteem, etc.[4]

Brain Function

With the introduction of more precise techniques to scan different areas of the brain, there has been a massive interest and increase in the amount of neurological research into brain function when engaged in a whole range of musical activities from passive listening to performing on individual instruments. Research specifically shows that both older and newer areas of the brain inclusive of sensory-motor, emotions, cognition, fine motor, equilibrium, aural centres, and both hemispheres of the brain are used to varying degrees and in different ways when engaged in musical activity with dependence on a range of factors. These include gender, age and experience of the musician, the task being undertaken, for example aural, performance, conducting, individual task, group task, and even the kind of music or sound used in a study. Additionally there are variations among individuals.

Importantly, evidence demonstrates that there is a more pervasive effect on the development of the brain (brain plasticity) when a child starts learning an instrument than learning that takes place as an adolescent or adult, but there is still plasticity in the adult brain. Sustained, structured practice with delineated outcomes enhances this plasticity.[5]

Music contributes to students’ cognitive development including abstract thinking, aural and spatial awareness, verbal understanding (see above).

Music contributes to students’ kinetic / motor skill development (see above).


Music contributes to students’ creativity when engaged with composing, arranging, improvising tasks which call upon the individual or group to imagine, plan, organise, experiment with and develop sound in an abstract way[6].

Learning Outcomes across Disciplines

It is still not fully understood why, but music enhances learning in a range of non-musical domains. Current thinking centres around the fact that music stimulates so many different brain regions, or that it motivates learning through the brain chemical ‘rewards’ (such as dopamine hits), the joy that music provides,[7] or that the social connections and self-esteem it establishes in students has a carry-over effect. Although the reasons are not fully understood there is a great deal of evidence to show that there is a correlation between music learning and enhanced abilities in a range of areas:

  • Music contributes to students’ rational thinking — reasoning, critical thinking, logistical thinking and interpretive skills[8]
  • Music contributes to learning in other knowledge and skill areas such as numeracy, literacy[9]
  • Music contributes to students’ concentration, memory, time management. A plethora of short-term and longitudinal studies, particularly in the US demonstrate these effects as a result of Arts Education and the suggested sources list many of these studies.[10]

Social Cohesion and Skills

Music connects people through sound, so that there is a sense of physical and emotional camaraderie and shared experience. It is what is most unique about the musical experience[11]This ‘shared sound’ leads to a greater sense of communication with others, team cooperation and enhances social confidence.[12]

Music contributes to students’ social skills—communication with others, social confidence, team cooperation, leadership potential, etc.[13]

Music has therapeutic applications in relation to mental, physical and social disabilities.[14]

Music provides a vocational outcome for some students.[15]


Mandy Stefanakis and Robin S. Stevens, May 2013. Entered on Knowledge Base 28 October 2013.


  1. See Australian Curriculum: The Arts (ACARA 2013).
    Seidel, S., Tishman, S., Winner, E., Hetland, L., and Palmer, P., 2009, The Qualities of Quality: Understanding Excellence in Arts Education, Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
  2. McPherson, G. E., and Welch, G. (Eds.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Music Education Volumes 1 and 11. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
    Damasio, A. (2012) Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. New York: Vintage.
    Wayne Bowman Publications, including Bowman, W., and Powell, K. (2007), ‘The Body in a State of Music’.
    ACARA 2013.
    Seidel et al. 2009.
    Ellen Dissayanake.
    Bresler, L. (1993), ‘Three Orientations to Arts in the Primary Grades: Implications for Curriculum Reform', Arts Education Policy Review, 94 (6), 29-34.
    Storr, A. (1992) Music and the Mind. New York: Free Press.
    Green, L. (Ed.) (2011) Learning, Teaching and Musical Identity: Voices Across Cultures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
    Hargreaves, D. J., MacDonald, R. and Miell, D. (2012) ‘Musical Identities Mediate Musical Development,’ in McPherson, G. and Welch, G. (Eds.) (2012), The Oxford Handbook of Music Education, Volume 1. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
    Gupta, R. (2012). Between Music and Medicine, TED Talks, video and transcript.
    Campbell, P. Connell, C., and Beegle, A. (2008) ‘Adolescents Expressed Meanings of Music in and Out of School’, in Journal of Research in Music Education. Fall 2007, 55 (3) 220-236.
    McPherson, G. E., Davidson, J. W., & Faulkner, R. (2012) Music in Our Lives: Rethinking Musical Ability, Development and Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Stefanakis, M. (2005) 'How Music Might Impact on Us and the Implications for Music Education', in Action, Criticism and Theory, Volume 4, No. 2. Online, available:
  3. Juslin, P. and Sloboda, J. (Eds.) (2001) Music and Emotion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Donald A. Hodges.
    Storr, 1992.
    Seidel et al, 2009.
  4. Deasy, R.J., ed. (2002), Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development.
    National Association for Music Education.
    President’s Committee on the Arts and in the Humanities.
    Seidel et al., 2009.
  5. Of note is the work of Levitin, D. J. (2012) ‘What Does it Mean to be Musical?’, Neuron, 73, February 23, 663–637.
    Damasio, 2012.
    Evans, A. C., Forgeard, M., Hyde, K. L., Lerch, J., Norton, A., Schlaug, G. and Winner, E. (2009) ‘Effects of Musical Training on Structural Brain Development: A Longitudinal Study,’ in The Neurosciences and Music III: Disorders and Plasticity: Annual. New York Academy of Sciences. 1169: 182–186.
    Hodges, D. (1996) ‘Human Musicality,’ in Hodges, D. (Ed.), Handbook of Music Psychology. San Antonio: Institute for Music Research
    Hodges, D. and Gruhn, W. (2012) ‘Implications of Neurosciences and Brain Research for Music Teaching and Learning,’ in McPherson, G. and Welch, G. (Eds.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Music Education Volume 1. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
    Juslin and Sloboda, 2001.
    Merrett, D. and Wilson, S. (2012) ‘Musicianship and the Brain,’ in Brown, A. (Ed.) Sound Musicianship: Understanding the Crafts of Music. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
    Peretz, I. and Zatorre, R. J. (Eds.) (2003), The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music. New York: Oxford University Press.
    Asbury and Rich ???.
    Hetland, L., and Winner, E. (2004), 'Cognitive Transfer from Arts Education to Non-arts Outcomes: Research Evidence and Policy Implications', in Eisner, E., and Day, M. (Eds.). Handbook on Research and Policy in Art Education. National Art Education Association.
  6. Barrett, M. S. and Tafuri, J. (2012) ‘Creative Meaning-Making in Infants’ and 'Young Children’s Musical Cultures’ in McPherson, G. and Welch, G. (Eds.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Music Education Volume 1. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
    Harwood, E. and Marsh, K. (2012) ‘Children’s Ways of Learning Inside and Outside the Classroom,’ in McPherson, G. and Welch, G. (Eds.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Music Education Volume 1. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
    Seidel et al, 2009.
    Arts Ed Search.
    President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
  7. McCarthy, K.F., Ondaatje, E.H., Zakaras, L. and Brooks, A. (2004) [ Gifts of the muse: Reframing the debate about the benefitsof the arts. Santa Monica, CA: RAND
  8. McGarity, B.M. (1986) Relationships among Cognitive Processing Styles, Musical Ability and Language Ability. MEd thesis, University of New England, New South Wales.
  9. Bahr, N. (1996). Relationships between Musicianship and Mathematical Skill. MEd thesis, University of Queensland, Queensland.
    Geoghegan, N. (1993). Possible Effects of Early Childhood Music on Mathematical Achievement. MA thesis, Macquarie University, New South Wales.
  10. Burnaford, G, Brown, S., Doherty, J., and McLaughlin, H. J. (2007), Arts Integration: Frameworks, Research & Practice: A Literature Review. Arts Education Partnership..
    Arts Ed Search
    Fiske, E. B. (ed.), (1999), Champions of Change:The Impact of the Arts on Learning. The Arts Education Partnership and the President's Committee of the Arts and the Humanities..
    Deasy (2002).
    US National Association for Music Education (Nafme) for the above.
  11. See Todd, N., Lee, C. and O'Boyle, D. (2002) ‘A Sensorimotor Theory of Temporal Tracking and Beat Induction’. Psychological Research, 66 (1) February 26-39.
    Brown, 2000.
    McNeill, W. (1995) Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  12. See Welch and McPherson, 2012.
  13. See Stevenson, L.M., and Deasy, R. J. (2005). Third Space: When Learning Matters.
    McCarthy et al., 2004.
  14. Stevenson and Deasy (2005).
    Gupta (2012).
    Catterall et al.. Can't access website.
    Schlaug, G..
    McDonald, L. M. M. (1999) The Response to Classroom Music Experiences of Students who have Learning Difficulties and/or Behaviour Problems. MEd research paper, Deakin University, Victoria McDonald, 1999.
    Stacey, B.J. (1983) Music Education and the Hearing-Impaired Child: An Experimental Program. MMus thesis, University of Queensland, Queensland.
    Weidenbach, V.G. (1981) Music in the Education of the Young, Multiply Handicapped Deaf / Blind Children. MA thesis, Macquarie University, New South Wales.
  15. McPherson, G. E., and Welch, G. (Eds.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Music Education Volumes 1 and 11. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
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