Written By: Juliette Choiseul
Music is one of the things that all humans have in common. Every society ever discovered has their own musical culture, and even the earliest of humans made their own musical instruments. It’s clear that something in our brains is wired to be drawn to the combination of sound and rhythm, and that music can be very powerful in eliciting strong emotional reactions. For a long time, scientists wondered what effects listening to and playing music can have on the brain. For many parents, however, the more pressing question is: can listening to certain types of music make my child smarter?
The Mozart Effect
The first study to claim to show a positive correlation between listening to the music of Mozart and higher test scores was held in 1993 and made huge waves among academic and public audiences alike. These results suggested that by playing the music of a genius like Mozart, parents and educators could improve the test scores and cognitive abilities of their children and students. This hope led to the creation of many companies and public programs which kept children well fed on a steady diet of brain-boosting Mozart or Bach. However, the hype and hubbub surrounding the Mozart Effect appears to be, at least in some ways, unfounded.
Debunking the Effect
While other studies have been able to produce similar results as the original study published in 1993, some problems lie in the original study’s design. With a small sample size and subjects composed entirely of college students, it’s hard to say if we can apply the results to children. Furthermore, the benefits of listening to classical music only applied to certain tasks, and only for about 15 minutes. Additionally, further studies showed that the brain-boosting effect was not limited to Mozart, or even just classical music. In one study, a popular rock song at the time was more effective in boosting subject’s scores than the classical music. This study, along with others, seems to show us that the magic factor here is not the music itself, but instead the act of engaging and stimulating the brain ahead of a task.
However, for parents who spent hours trying to listen to Tchaikovsky with the children, there’s no reason to think that time has been wasted. Children who are primed to enjoy classical music may develop an interest to play an instrument- an activity which has been shown repeatedly to hold all the benefits that the “Mozart Effect” was thought to have. Playing music requires several parts of the brain to work together at the same time, and it increases the amount of connections in the brain, making for more comprehensive thought and memory. Additionally, any activity that engages a child’s brain and allows them to express their emotions safely is good for them and listening to classical music with one’s child can be a great way to bond with them. As someone who was raised by classical music lovers, some of my best memories include going to the opera with my parents and bonding over our shared love of the arts.
As a music lover myself, I feel that every child can find something to enjoy in an orchestra. So, if you want to make your kids smarter with classical music, take them to operas and concerts, point out musical melodies in their favorite tv shows and movies, and ask them to listen to music more critically.
Who knows, maybe your child will become a musical and academic prodigy. But at worst, you’ll have a child who finds joy and stimulation in all kinds of music, and that sounds like a pretty great benefit to me.