Music classes help students succeed academically

Fall Follies opens on Thursday, which means that choir students have added nightly rehearsals to their busy schedules for a week and a half. This annual time crunch puts a lot of stress on students as they try to strike a balance between rehearsals, other extracurriculars, and academics.

But is it possible that instead of detracting from academic success, taking music courses in high school is actually aiding it?

In the book This Is Your Brain on Music, author Daniel Levitin explains that listening to, playing, reading, and composing music involves almost every part of the brain, and it can lead to increasing mental and physical abilities.

“Because playing music requires coordination of motor control, somatosensory touch and auditory information, most musicians are known to have developed a greater ability than the average person to use both hands,” Levitin writes. “Increased networks between the left and right brain form thick fibers that interconnect the two motor areas, an area that is larger in musicians than in nonmusicians.”

The benefits of music on the brain aren’t just reserved for musicians, though. Even listening to music engages memory centers in your brain. So when you’re listening to music while working on your homework or studying, you’re taking advantage of the way your brain is wired.

“I am always playing music in my room while studying, which, now looking at the data, could be helping me,” said senior Lauren Henriques. Henriques has been involved in choir all four years of high school, plus jazz choir and musicals, and she has seen the positive impact of music on her academic life.

“I was not as involved in music as a freshman as I am now but looking back, yes, I have seen a tremendous increase in my GPA,” she said. “The people I surround myself with have high expectations and being in music helps me reach them.” 

Henriques’s experience is supported by further research. Setting and achieving goals requires planning and discipline, two skills that researchers put under the umbrella of “executive functioning.” A study from Boston Children’s Hospital found a direct link between musical training and improved executive function in people of all ages.

But we don’t need to look beyond our walls to see the potential impact of music education on students’ success. Current sophomores, juniors, and seniors not involved in music (a sample size of roughly 1203 students) have an average weighted cumulative GPA of 3.23. The 325 sophomores, juniors, and seniors involved in at least one music class have an average weighted cumulative GPA of 3.53. That 30-point increase in GPA is likely not exclusively due to taking music classes, but it’s a significant difference between the groups.

“I always love when the data reaffirms what we have been teaching here at Cary-Grove for years,” said Mr. Whalen, who teaches choir and band. “We always strive for excellence within our students and I am happy to see data supporting what [teachers in the music department] have believed for years.

“[Band teacher Mr. Magnini] and I always have fun at the graduation ceremony seeing NHS scholars and national merit scholars that we have seen develop in either band or choir, many of which are valedictorians or salutatorians who have been involved with choir and or band. We have always felt that there is a strong link between music and academics and I am glad to see that there is data to support these findings.”

So as you or your friends are struggling to keep up with classes during the crunch of Follies rehearsals and performances, take comfort in knowing that the thing that has you behind right now may be what puts you ahead in the end.