Changes in the wellbeing of children starting to learn to play musical instruments.

Dawn C. Rose, Pamela Heaton, Alice Jones Bartoli

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Learning a musical instrument can be considered a 'superskill' associated with meta-plasticity in the brain (Stewart, 2008). Evidence shows neural structural adaptation after 15 months of musical training (Hyde et al., 2009), and behavioural benefits from 15 weeks of musical training (Overy, 2003). A goal-directed pleasurable reward system appears to support the acquisition of musical skills over time, promoting motivation to continue practicing as the emerging musician learns the autotelic value (a meaning unto itself) of playing their instrument (Elliott, 1993). Peripatetic music teachers note a range of benefits, from the development of team work and social skills to self-discipline, with pupils themselves noting the enhancement of 'life skills', such as improved ability to both concentrate and relax during stressful periods (Kokotsaki & Hallam, 2007). Clift and Hancox (2001) report members of a choral society benefitting socially (87 per cent) and emotionally (75 per cent). Physically, playing piano has been shown to exercise the heart as much as a brisk walk (Parr, 1985) and singing supports the immune system by increasing salivary immunoglobulin production (Clift et al., 2008). Overall, we appear to perceive musical instrument learning (MIL) as providing benefits such as good health, improved quality of life and mental well-being (Hallam, 2010). The hypothesis of the current study is that the group spending more time learning musical instruments will benefit more in measures of emotional and behavioural well-being than those who spend less time on this activity. Methodology and measurement This study took place over one academic year with Time 1 occurring in September 2013 and Time 2 observations in June 2014 (N = 38). The mean age at T1 was 93 months (SD 5.54) with 21 female and 17 males, 22 attending state schools and 16 attending independent schools. The mean IQ was 106 (SD 13.77; Range 74 –133). Twenty participants were classed as having more than one hour of musical learning (a mixture of instruments) per week (the 'More' group), whilst 18 received less than this (the 'Less' group). Parents and teachers completed the Behavioural Assessment System for Children (BASC-II; Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004). Additionally, parents provided information regarding the number of hours their child spent doing activities classified as musical, physical and leisure, both in and out of school. The BASC-II contains descriptors of behaviour that respondents rate on a four-point scale (Never, Sometimes, Often and Almost Always) and takes 10 to 20 minutes to complete. The clinical scales include aggression, anxiety, attention problems, atypicality, conduct problems, depression, hyperactivity, learning problems, somatisation and withdrawal. The adaptive scales include activities of daily living, adaptability, functional communication, leadership, social skills and study skills.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-30
Number of pages5
JournalAssessment & Development Matters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2015


  • Music Education
  • Wellbeing
  • Learning
  • Transfer Effects


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