Music Training and Self Control

A Great Teacher

Things and activities that children enjoy make them grow in confidence. Love is a great teacher and who can resist the temptation of rhythm and melodies?

Music is agreeable and exciting.  We are often surrounded by music, and we listen to it to relax and forget about everyday chores and problems. Yet, it is possible that music plays a much more fundamental and vital role in our lives. And that it has a role in promoting the development of certain skills.

Music and Art Training

A recent study, using interactive computerized training programmes for preschool children suggests that music training helps children to acquire more vocabulary and greater self-control. There were two programmes, one in visual art, and one in music. The programme was intensive, two one-hour lessons each day for 5 days a week. The music programme included training in rhythm, pitch, melody, voice and some basic musical terms.

After four weeks the children who were in the music group improved on a measure of verbal intelligence. They also improved in, what is called “executive function.” Executive function includes self-discipline, which is required to pay attention and resist impulses.


The self-control was measured by a “go /no-go” task. The children had to resist the temptation to press a button when they saw a certain shape on a screen. If you watch children while they are participating in music lessons, you see that music training teaches them to focus their attention and to control their impulses. It is impossible to clap a rhythm if you are not focused, and control your hands and arms.

You would expect children who learn about shape, colour, line, dimension, and perspective to improve on visual-spatial tasks. Yet, the preschooler did not improve on these tasks. A possible explanation is that it takes longer time to improve and transfer these skills to other tasks.

Preschoolers are often auditory experts and their language is developing. The visuo-spatial development during the preschool years is perhaps less intensive. Thus, preschoolers may need longer time or a more intensive programme if there is going to be any significant effect on their visuo-spatial skills.

Everything you are involved in, changes the brain. Yet, some changes may not be permanent or deep. Changes in the brain were measured in the study. Children in the music training programme, who showed signs of improved self-control,  showed some characteristic pattern of change in brain activity The effects were not huge.

Moreno, S., Bialystok, E., Barac, R., Schellenberg, E. G., Cepeda, N. J., & Chau, T. 2011. Short-term music training enhances verbal intelligence and executive function. Psychological Science. 

Photo: Little Girl Singing In Headphones by Michal Marcol

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