The Benefits of Music Education

In my previous Action Items post, and in my open letter to Dr. Watts, I alluded to the significant benefits of music education for students. Although I am confident that educators and administrators in Kent School District are familiar with the research on music education, I thought it would be beneficial to briefly discuss some of those benefits. This is in no way a comprehensive review of the research.

One of the arguments that I have heard for cutting music education is that the schools need to “focus on what’s important, and that’s reading.” While reading skills are critically important to education , there is more to the story than a simple focus on reading skills. Researchers have found that children with average reading skills and higher levels of social skills performed better academically than children with similar reading skills but lower levels of social skills . Further, in samples of homeless students, emotional control and social competence contributed more to academic achievement and reading ability than even IQ . It is clear from the research, that focusing on reading alone does not adequately prepare students for academic success, particularly for disadvantaged students like many of those served by Kent School District, and Mill Creek in particular .

Academic Benefits

Music education impacts children’s cognitive development in several important ways. Research indicates that learning to play an instrument improves a number of important cognitive skills necessary for academic achievement including fine motor skills, working memory, memory recall, and the ability to think abstractly . Early access to quality music education is positively associated with improvements in academic achievement  with particular benefits in math, reading, and other core subjects and students who study music have better grades in all of their classes .

Students who have consistent access to orchestra and band, in particular,  in middle and high school are better at math at graduation than their peers . Students attending schools with high quality music programs scored 17-33% higher in math than their peers in schools without music programs . Those involved in band or orchestra were more than twice as likely to be at the highest levels of math, compared to their peers without music classes .

And remember those social factors that are so important to reading skills ? Music education is associated with development of positive social skills and friendships , a critical factor in the development of reading skills, particularly for under-served students. Those students who study music have increased verbal memory and do better at reading, writing, proofreading, and researching than their peers . Students who are in quality music programs demonstrate English skills that score 19-32% higher than those in schools without music or with weak music programs .

These performance gains in math and language are cumulative, increase over time and hold true regardless of socioeconomic or ethnic/racial variables . Students who study music have higher SAT scores than their same-age classmates, demonstrate better study habits, better attention to detail, increased creativity, better active listening skills, improved ability to stay on task, increased levels of perseverance, and higher self-esteem .

Students who are involved in music education have better school attendance , and are more likely to graduate . The positive impacts on cognitive ability from early music education persist into adulthood .

Mill Creek

The benefits of early, consistent, and quality  music education are clear . Dr. Watts has spoken about the incredible diversity of our district and his commitment to KSD being a student-centered organization , a goal I and many others support.

Nationally, students of color, English language learners, those from families with lower SES and lower levels of parental education, are under-represented in music education programs . In more privileged areas, families may be able to provide other music education opportunities to their children if music is cut from their schools. The research suggest that the benefits of consistent music education are most pronounced for students from low-income families and under-represented students , and yet in our district, where we claim to be “successfully preparing all students for their futures,” we are letting down the most vulnerable in our community. Students at Mill Creek are among the most diverse in our district. With a student population that is nearly 80% students of color, and 20% bilingual and where 73% of the student body receives free or reduced lunch , what resources do families have to provide their children the academic benefits of music education if it is cut from their school?

These types of cuts prevent Mill Creek students from having equal educational opportunities as compared to their peers.

At a school where less than 50% of students meet state standards in ELA, and Science, and less than 40% meet standards for math , why are we cutting the one program that demonstrably increases academic success in these critical subjects ?

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Cite this article as:
Robert Allred, "The Benefits of Music Education," in Robert P. Allred, PhD, June 24, 2017,


APA 6th:
Allred, R.P. (June 24, 2017). The Benefits of Music Education [Weblog post]. Robert P. Allred, PhD. Retrieved January 21, 2018 from


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