Music Doesn’t Make You Smarter, You Were Smart Already

Not long ago I saw a link on to a short news piece saying a study found music won’t make people smarter. I sought out the study in on the Memory & Cognition journal website to learn a bit more about this metareview of previous studies on the subject.

The study authors state the following:

We can thus conclude that these findings convincingly refute all the theories claiming that music training causes improvements in any domain-general cognitive skill or academic achievement (e.g., Moreno et al., 2011; Patel, 2011; Saarikivi et al., 2019; Tierney & Kraus, 2013). In fact, there is no need to postulate any explanatory mechanism in the absence of any genuine effect or between-study variability. In other words, since there is no phenomenon, there is nothing to explain

Later they discuss that musical ability and intelligence are connected, but it is innate, rather trained, musical skill that is associated with intelligence. For awhile it appeared their findings might support that there is value in music education because it helps to strengthen those entwined roots at the base of natural musical aptitude and intelligence, basically activating a natural capacity which may have otherwise been dormant. However, the following statement seemed to eliminate that possibility.

These findings corroborate the hypothesis according to which the observed correlation between music training and particular domain-general cognitive/academic skills is a byproduct of previous abilities…Therefore, there is no reason to support the hypothesis that music training boosts cognition or academic skills. Rather, all the evidence points toward the opposite conclusion, that is, that the impact of music training on cognitive and academic skills is null

They do say it might be worth studying whether music training is beneficial for things like prosocial behavior and self-esteem. They say this is an understudied area along with exploring whether some “elements of music instruction (e.g., arithmetical music notation) could be used to facilitate learning in other disciplines such as arithmetic.”

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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