If this is true, it’s good news for conservatory students. But what about the vast majority of musicians — the ones a little lower down the ladder, who aren’t studying music to become virtuosos or even professional musicians? What does brain science have to offer them?
As music educators find themselves increasingly pressed to come up with reasons why music programs in schools should not be eliminated, all kinds of “side effects” are touted as arguments for school music programs. Music teaches discipline and teamwork. Learning an instrument gives young people a sense of accomplishment. And yes, thanks to recent research, it can be argued that studying music can make young people smarter.
That said, Schellenberg cautions against arguing this point too strongly. Music should be recognized as an end in itself, not a means to some other end. “Studies show slight gains in IQ,” he observes, “so there is mounting evidence that music training has some kind of cognitive benefit. But nobody tries to justify math lessons because they make your poetry skills better.”