Austrians Say Music Makes Kids Smarter

A traditional Austrian folk music oompah band. (Photo: Mark Sewell)

A traditional Austrian folk music oompah band. (Photo: Mark Sewell)

German neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer has released a new study indicating  “listening to sweet melodies” at an early age “is important for a child’s emotional and mental development and improves their intelligence, self-discipline and self-control.”

The study, commissioned by Upper Austria governor Josef Puehringer to investigate the effects of music on 57,000 music students, was first reported in Austria’s English-language newspaper The Local.
Spitzer determined that the most important subjects in early childhood education were music, sports, theater and “craft activities where children use their hands.” Interactive engagement, like playing an instrument or drawing, fosters concentration, while passive activities like watching a film or TV program, actively diminish that capacity, the study indicates.
Spitzer added that his study supports the fact that “music does make people more intelligent,” and that children improve their intelligence “in school when they learn to play an instrument or when they are singing. Music also accelerates the education processes in other areas.”
The Austrian study is one of many to confirm the benefits of music on growing minds, providing much-needed ammunition to arts advocates who in the US wage an ongoing battle to keep music and arts programs from being eliminated from curricula, particularly early public school education.
A study by Virginia Penhune at Concordia University links instrumental music training with long-term benefits to motor ability, and claims the earlier the music training begins, the stronger the lifelong positive reinforcements to the brain.
A US News & World Report piece notes the brain benefits found in musicians are also common among world-class athletes and top-level managers, and goes on to ask: “Is it a coincidence that Condoleeza Rice (piano), Alan Greenspan (jazz clarinet), Paul Allen (guitar), James Wolfensohn (cello) all studied music for years as children? Perhaps, but they all attribute current success, in part, to their musical training.”
 There are many instances in which science reinforces that children — or even adults who take up instruments later in life — playing music for at least 30 minutes a week for a year or more have more highly developed brains. Spitzer’s research is only the latest to confirm well-established theory.
Spitzer’s study also shows that activities such as watching or performing theater plays are important for the development of youngsters’ self-discipline and self-control. “They have a goal and learn how to reach it,” the neuroscientist said. “Studies that have been conducted for more than 40 years show that people with greater willpower earn more, are healthier, and live longer.”
There are conflicting accounts of exactly how much music is being cut from public schools. According to a 2015 Law Street report, school music programs were less frequently cut than other arts initiatives — remaining virtually unchanged over the past 10  years. Others surveys claim, however, that music is most likely to be cut in the underprivileged communities where kids need it the most.
One thing is certain: music and arts advocates need to remain vigilant about pressing an agenda that emphasizes a well-rounded education that includes arts exposure.
Click here to listen to the Austrian oompah band photographed by Mark Sewell in the image above.

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