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Imagine your life without music.  Imagine watching a movie with no soundtrack.  Imagine a long drive with nothing but traffic noise to keep you company.  Imagine all the things in your life today that depend on music.  Now imagine giving the gift of music to someone else.

If your imagination is up to the challenge, you can begin to get an understanding of just how important music is to our humanity.  It’s the language that connects us.  It’s the community that accepts us.  It’s the tool we all use to measure the intangible things within.  …but what you may not know is that music is more than just a social glue.  It’s an important emotional and physiological vitamin that changes us – that enhances our development – from an early age.  It is, in fact, the greatest medicine science has ever studied.

…and we have barely begun to understand it.

What we know, however, makes a strong case that active participation in music (not simply listening, but participating in music study of some kind) is essential to our emotional and cognitive development.  It is the original “core curriculum” and we can no longer afford to ignore its impact on our society.

Recent research from Northwestern University confirms that individuals with past musical training – even just three years of piano lessons as a child – demonstrate a fundamental alteration of the nervous system that persists into adulthood. Other studies have linked this phenomenon of enhanced brain stem encoding with “heightened auditory perception, executive function, and auditory-based communication skills” (Skoe and Kraus, 2012).

Additional research from a 2005 study showed that extensive piano practice was correlated to better organization of nerve fiber tracts, “even the pyramidal tract, which is a main tract that connects the brain with the spinal cord and is essential for movement.” (Bengtsson, S.L., et al., Extensive piano practicing has regionally specific effects on white matter development. Nat Neurosci, 2005. 8(9): p. 1148-50.)

There is no longer any doubt that active participation in music makes permanent, beneficial chances to the human body.  In particular, Science has identified three areas where music study enhances our personal development.


Cognitive Development

A 1997 study by Dr. Gordon Shaw, the predominant scholar associated with “The Mozart Effect,” reported that even as little as six months of keyboard training results in enhanced spatio-temporal reasoning, which translates to an average 34% higher score on puzzle-solving tests like the ACTs or SATs. The effect was so dramatic that Dr. Shaw compiled his research in his landmark book Keeping Mozart in Mind (Academic Press, 2003).

piano lessonsThe College Board recently confirmed Dr. Shaw’s study, stating that students who have participated in at least four years of musical education score an average 100 points higher on the SAT than students with one-half year or less of music education. (; see also Kathryn Vaughn and Ellen Winner, Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 34, No. 3/4, Special Issue: The Arts and Academic Achievement: What the Evidence Shows (Autumn – Winter, 2000), pp. 77-89)

Additional research by Frances Rauscher at UC Irvine confirms that there is a measurable increase in spatial IQ among students who study music.  In his study, preschool students who took music lessons over the course of a year experienced a 34% increase in spatial IQ, compared to a 6% increase in students who didn’t take music lessons.

Musically-enhanced cognitive function has been proven to propel students to unparalleled success later in life as well.  A 1994 study showed that 66% of medical school applicants who were music majors in undergraduate school were accepted, the largest percentage of any applicant group.  In fact, “The very best engineers and technical designers in the Silicon Valley industry are, nearly without exception, practicing musicians.” (Grant Venerable, “The Paradox of the Silicon Savior,” as reported in “The Case for Sequential Music Education in the Core Curriculum of the Public Schools,” The Center for the Arts in the Basic Curriculum, New York, 1989)

In short, Science has confirmed that music study not only benefits us as children, it also enhances our performance in academia and – later – in our careers of choice.  With such overwhelming evidence for music study, why are we not flocking to the piano? 


Emotional Wellbeing

Active participation in music not only benefits our cognitive function, it also makes us happier, more well-adjusted people.

happy boy at the pianoA 1998 study from the Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that secondary school students who participated in some form of musical activity were at the lowest risk of alcohol and drug abuse compared to their peers. Likewise, a 1999 study from Columbia University showed that music students are more likely to be more cooperative with teachers and peers – relating with better self-confidence and better articulation of ideas. These benefits have broad socioeconomic impacts.  Furthermore, those who participated in music programs reported more confidence about their academic abilities than students who did not participate in musical training.

Other research suggests that playing a musical instrument creates the same quality and degree of endorphin rush that runners experience after a long workout.  In fact, music students experience many of the same physiological benefits experienced by seasoned runners: lowered resting heart rate, reduced blood pressure, and increased energy. Researchers believe that this is caused by brain stem stimulation.  …and a better-functioning brain stem results in tremendous emotional and physiological benefits overall. (

Increased endorphins also result in reduced stress, which is an important component of good health. Endorphins directly counteract cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. As reported by Srinivasan Pillay, a 2002 study showed that mice exposed to music displayed decreased stress effects on their immune systems, as well as enhancing immunological parameters and anti-tumor responses by the body in rodents who were not stressed. Pillay also mentions that such reduced stress may have a positive effect of countering the negative side-effects of chemotherapy in human cancer patients. (Nunez, M.J., et al., Music, immunity and cancer. Life Sci, 2002. 71(9): p. 1047-57.)


Healing and Physiological Health

Likewise, increased endocrine function, such as the “runner’s high” experience described above, directly impacts pain tolerance. A group of Mayo Clinic studies have found that music study has an analgesic property tied to increased endorphin activity within the nervous system.  Mayo has been so impressed by the effect music has on their cancer patients that they have put music performance to therapeutic work in their cancer centers.

senior man at the pianoFurther research from the University of Utah supports the use of music as an independent nursing intervention to relieve pain in cancer patients, affirming music’s analgesic properties. In the study, 75% of patients showed some positive response to music, while 47% indicated that they had a moderate or great response in reduction of pain when playing or listening to music. (

The connection between music and health was further affirmed by Dr. Nimeth Nagarsheth in a book entitled “Music and Cancer: A Prescription for Healing.”  Dr. Nagarsheth’s book explores the role of music both in all phases of the cancer cycle, from diagnosis, to remission, recovery, and palliative care, and how music can both aid the body’s fight against cancer and help the patient maintain their connection to life in order to encourage the healing process. (

A 2009 study conclusively demonstrated that recreational music making resulted in increased immunological response, specifically by increasing the number of disease-killer cells in the body’s lymphatic and circulatory systems. While the benefits presented in all age groups studied, Koyama’s research indicated that the increased immunological effects were amplified in older adults. (Koyama, M., et al., Recreational music-making modulates immunological responses and mood states in older adults. J Med Dent Sci, 2009. 56(2): p. 79-90.)

Research by Dr. Christine Leist of Appalachian State University suggests that listening to –  and particularly playing – music results in a reduced stress and anxiety level, as well as an increase in vigor and activity – elements vital to preventing and reversing the effects of heart disease. (

Music is an essential part of our emotional, cognitive and physiological well-being.  No matter what your age, education or background, active participation in music can enrich your life.  Don’t miss out on the important benefits music can offer you and your children.  Begin piano lessons today!


Supporting Data:

Music makes the brain physically larger; study of functional neuroanatomy:

The Benefits of Music Study:

Increases number of neural connections in sound-to-cognition centers of the brain:

Top Ten Music Advocacy Points for Everyone:

Top Ten Music Advocacy Points for Parents:

Impact of recreational music making on decreased morbidity for cardiovascular disease:

Keeping Mozart in mind:

Elicits similar health benefits to running:

Produces the same brain chemistry as that associated with “runner’s high”:

11 Ways Playing Music Helps Both the Body and the Mind:

NAMM Medical Benefits of Playing Music Fact Sheet:

7 Ways Music Breaks can Improve Your Health (Srinivasan Pillay):