Irvine, Calif., February 28, 1997
A study by UC Irvine researchers shows that piano lessons significantly improve the reasoning skills of preschool children.
The results of the two-year study -- published in the February issue of the journal Neurological Research -- provide the strongest evidence to date that exposure to music at an early age can enhance the early childhood development of the brain, said UCI physics professor Gordon Shaw, the principal investigator for the study.
The UCI study showed that preschool children who received basic piano keyboard instruction scored an average of 34 percent higher on tests of their reasoning skills than children who were given computer and singing lessons.
"What this means for parents is that they should consider giving their children piano lessons as early as age three or four," Shaw said. "Our study is not the last word on the subject, but it's a big step forward in showing the importance of music to learning and the need for music training programs for all grade levels."
Shaw co-authored the study with professor Frances Rauscher, a former UCI psychologist now on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin's psychology department. The UCI Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory helped coordinate the study.
The study involved 78 three- and four-year-old children of normal intelligence from three preschools in Southern California. Thirty-four children received private piano keyboard lessons, 20 children received similar private instruction on computers, 10 children were given group singing lessons and 14 children in a control group received no special lessons.
None of the children involved had any prior music lessons or computer training.
Shaw said the study used the piano as the musical instrument of choice because a piano keyboard gave the children both a linear and audible representation of the relationship between sounds. Shaw's team did not include other musical instruments in their research.
All of the preschool children involved in the study were tested to measure their spatial reasoning skills prior to any training. They were tested again after about six months of lessons. The researchers used reasoning tests from the performance sub-test section of the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Revised, a standard test used in schools nationwide to score children's reasoning abilities.
To test the preschoolers' spatial-temporal skills, Shaw and his researchers asked them to put together a four-piece picture puzzle known as the Object Assembly test. Successfully performing this test required the children to form a mental picture of the completed object and to rotate the puzzle pieces to match the mental image.
Only the piano keyboard group showed significant improvement in their ability to use abstract reasoning skills to complete the task.
Abstract reasoning skills -- clinically known as spatial-temporal reasoning -- involve the mental manipulation of images and information. The skills are crucial ingredients in the higher brain functions that are used for mathematics, science, engineering, or even a good game of chess, according to Shaw.
The latest findings on preschoolers expand on the initial research by Shaw in 1993 that showed college students also scored higher on spatial-temporal reasoning tests after listening to a Mozart piano sonata. Although the so-called "Mozart Effect" lasted only about 10 minutes for the college students, the weekly piano lessons led to improvements in the preschool children's intelligence that lasted for more than a day, Shaw said, noting that more research needs to be done to further explore the relationship between music, intelligence and learning.
In addition to Shaw and Rauscher, other team members who participated in the study include Linda Levine, assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at UCI's School of Social Ecology; Eric Wright, an instructor with the Irvine Conservatory of Music; Wendy Dennis, a graduate student at the University of Southern California's psychology department; and Robert Newcomb, a senior lecturer with UCI's School of Social Sciences.
Primary funding for the two-year, $200,000 study came from grants by the National Association of Music Merchants, the Ralph and Leona Gerard Foundation, the Sever Institute, the Orange County Philharmonic Society, Walter Cruttenden and Associates, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the National Piano Foundation.
Electric piano keyboards were supplied by the Yamaha Corp. of America.
Additional information on UCI-led research about the links between music and intelligence are available through UCI's Music and Science Information Computer Archive (MuSICA).