The benefits of music education for STEM students are more numerous than you might guess.

When schools are forced to cut budgets, music is often one of the first departments to suffer. This may also mean that students are missing out on the many benefits of music education. A recent Canadian study found that students who took continuous music classes consistently received higher grades. Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory also reported that low-income students exposed to music education were more likely to attend college than their neighborhood counterparts who received no musical training.

The Impact of Music

benefits of music educationUnfortunately, just listening to music doesn’t appear to produce quite the same neurological results as actually learning an instrument. Some analysts have likened the benefits of music education to exercise; watching sports will give you a better understanding of a game, but it doesn’t confer the same physical effects as playing the game yourself. Music-making strengthens brain functions such as memory, language, and attention. It may also increase spatial temporal reasoning, leading to better results in subjects like math and science. Students with a musical background score an average of 44 points higher on their math SAT, according to the National Association for Music Education.

Music As a Teaching Tool

Difficult mathematical concepts can sometimes be conveyed through music. Like math, music requires an understanding of rules, logic, and abstract thinking. Educators have already come up with some innovative ways to enhance students’ STEM skills through the benefits of music education. For example, researchers at San Francisco State University have developed a program called Academic Music, which uses music notation to teach fractions to third graders.

Below are just a few ways to incorporate the benefits of music education into your classroom:

  • Create a maker space that contains a music element. It might be a simple workbench area that includes instruments or a computer with audio and recording software.
  • Use musical math games to help younger students learn mathematical concepts through rhythm.
  • Take advantage of EarSketch, a free web-based application that teaches Python and JavaScript through music composition. It’s supported by the National Science Foundation and even provides a modular curriculum for use with a high school or college-level introductory computing course.
  • Put on some music in the classroom. It may not impart the same neurological benefits as playing an instrument, but classical music in particular can help to release tension and develop a relaxing learning environment.

It’s a misunderstanding to view the benefits of music education as secondary to other subjects. In the words of astrophysicist Carl Sagan, “It is the tension between creativity and skepticism that has produced the stunning unexpected findings of science.” Learn more about incorporating the arts in your STEM classroom here.

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