Oct 12, 2013

How learning a musical instrument affects the development of skills

Despite numerous studies on skill development, we know little about the causal effects of music training on cognitive and non-cognitive skills. This study examines how long-term music training during childhood and youth affects the development of cognitive skills, school grades, personality, time use and ambition using representative data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). Our findings suggest that adolescents with music training have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious. These effects do not differ by socio-economic status. Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance. In order to address the non-random selection into music training, we take into account detailed information on parents, which may determine both the decision to pursue music lessons and educational outcomes: socio-economic background, personality, involvement with the child’s school, and taste for the arts. In addition, we control for the predicted probability to give up music before age 17 as well as the adolescent’s secondary school type. We provide evidence that our results are robust to both reverse causality and the existence of partly treated individuals in the control group.
That is from a paper by Adrian Hille & Jürgen Schupp.
From the conclusions
Adolescents who have learned a musical instrument at least between age 8 and 17 score more than one fourth of a standard deviation above other children in a cognitive skills test. This advantage is driven by verbal rather than mathematical skills. . .  They are more than 10 percent less likely to watch TV daily and about 15 percent more likely to aim at completing upper secondary school and attending university. Moreover, adolescents of low or medium socio-economic status with music training are more optimistic about their future chances of success (p. 23). 

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