Schellenberg, E. G. (2004). Music lessons enhance IQ. Psychological Science, 15(8), 511–4.
The link between music and intelligence has been a very popular topic in research in the past number of years. In this study, Glenn Schellenberg (U of T professor) focuses on whether music lessons offer skills that extend to non-musical areas of cognition. His participants included 132 children (after 12 dropped out), aged 6 years old, who were split into four different groups. Two experimental groups received keyboard lessons or Kodály voices lessons for a year, while two control groups received either drama lessons or no lessons. The lessons were taught for 36 weeks over one school year. At the beginning and the end of the study, children were tested on intelligence using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children- Third Edition (WISC-III), the most widely used test of intelligence in childhood. They were also tested for educational achievement and social functioning with various other tests.Results of the study indicated that those who received music lessons over the course of the year had a significant increase in IQ compared to those who received no training, or training in a non-music program (drama). Although it was significant statistically, the actual IQ point difference was small. Schellenberg explains the association between music lessons and IQ, saying “it is well established that simple attendance in school raises IQ and that instruction in school is particularly effective when class sizes are small. Music lessons, taught individually or in small groups, may provide additional boosts in IQ because they are like school but still enjoyable.”
The music groups also had a bigger increase in academic achievement over the drama lessons or no lessons groups. An interesting result that Schellenberg did not anticipate, is that the children who received drama lessons had a bigger increase in social skills than the musically trained group.
What I like about this study is that the music training variable is isolated, making the results more meaningful than if Schellenberg had tested children who already had music training against those with none. Because the children were all randomly assigned, there is a higher chance that music training was the reason the children had higher IQ at the end of the year.
I find it interesting that out of the children who received music lessons, those who specifically had Kodály voice lessons had even higher IQ than the children who took keyboard lessons. Also the fact that the dropout rate among the participants was the highest out of the keyboard lessons group. As a private music teacher who has taught 6-year-olds before, I can say that it takes a tremendous amount of planning to engage a 6-year-old in a private music lesson. Even then, the chances of a young child getting bored or agitated in their lessons is extremely high, so this dropout rate does not surprise me. In contrast, the Kodály approach is a very embodied approach to music education that gets the children engaged for the full lesson. It makes sense that these children had the highest improvement in IQ between the four groups, and also supports having music education present in the school system.
Another interesting comparison I’d like to comment on is the difference between the kids in Kodály music lessons and the kids in drama lessons. I wonder why the kids in Kodaly averaged 2.9 points higher than the kids in drama on the IQ scale, when the two programs are very similar. In addition to this, drama lessons had favourable effects on social behaviour that were not evident in the music group, so one would think that this would favor the children’s IQ scores against those in music, but apparently not so.