This month, Monna Matharu, our intern at Creative United, writes about the wide-ranging benefits of making music against the backdrop of cuts to music education.

Monna began playing music from the age of eight. Whilst she describes herself as an amateur, the personal benefits of playing and listening to music have inspired a lifelong love and helped her greatly.

‘Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to imagination and life to everything’


Imagine if we had discovered an activity which could improve our cognitive functions and our memory, helped us to moderate emotional states, learn a language, solve complex problems and be healthier?

What if that activity was music?

Music can express the way you feel, is an inspiration; the collaboration of sounds creating rhythms and patterns. It can be a soundtrack, a perspective, a voice. It gives life to what exists.

Research has demonstrated that music education improves cognitive abilities, enhancing academic achievement across many areas of the curriculum, such as mathematics, languages, history and science.

Music is incredibly valuable for the development of concentration, listening, language development, creativity, comprehension, communication and order thinking skills. Benefits have also been observed in the areas of emotional expression, self-esteem, citizenship and student engagement.

So, if music can improve thinking, learning and enrich so many aspects of life, why are there not more measures to protect music education for our future generation?

Whilst benefits are undisputed, vocational music is among the first programs, in many UK schools, to be sacrificed. In response to changes to the school curriculum – with the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – tightening budgets and the reorganisation services, music education has less of an emphasis than ever before. This year, 2018, music was cited as the most common subject to be dropped from school curriculums and access to study the subject is falling year on year.[1]

Cognitive Development

Anita Collins, a musician and educator in Australia, recently delivered a study attempting to find connections between music education and cognitive development.[2] Neuroscientists have compared the brain structures and functions in musicians and non-musicians. Using MRI scans, they observed what was happening whilst participants completed different tasks, such as math’s problems, reading and puzzles. Scientists discovered certain areas of a musician’s brain would light up in ways unseen in non-musicians.[3] When the musicians listened to music multiple areas of the brain would light up at once, breaking apart melody and rhythm and putting them back together to make an entire musical experience. In addition, when playing music, they noticed how the brain exercised the three main areas; the motor, visual and audio cortices. [4]

The difference between playing and listening is the use of motor skills. Using motor skills in this way stimulates both hemispheres of the brain. It was observed that musicians have a larger bridge crossing both left and the right hemispheres of the brain, the Corpus Callosum. This uses more of the brains creative pathways and allows messages to travel across the brain faster, which in turns affects many other areas of the brain. [5]

Problem Solving

These cognitive functions may allow musicians to solve problems more creatively and effectively, in both academic and social settings. Additionally, making music involves crafting and understanding its emotional content and message. Musicians have a higher level of executive function, a category of interlinked tasks which includes planning, strategising and attention to detail and requires simultaneous analysis of both cognitive and emotional aspects. [6]


Studies have demonstrated that playing music improves memory and recall. Music helps raise general cognitive capacity.[7] Neuroscientists now understand that music encourages high memory systems in the brain due to ‘tagging’. [8] ‘Tagging’ is effectively an association. Scientists learnt that when a musician makes a memory they create multiple emotional tags, conceptual tags or visual tags, allowing musicians greater recall and reliance on memory systems. This could be attributed to the acts of practising playing, working through mistakes, remembering rhythms, notes, scales, chords and tone.


Music provides comfort. Comfort can be gained through listening to music or playing music. By comfort, we can also mean learning to work with your instrument. Practising, sustaining, or patterning a rhythm, repeating and consistently creating sounds that flow and match, takes commitment, stamina and composure. As you push through there barriers of discomfort, you find comfort. This can be applied in many other situations outside of playing music.

Music can help players and listeners explore this discomfort and test themselves in many situations. Music can be a solo pursuit and it can be a communal pursuit, being part of a band or orchestra. Through practice, it can bring confidence and pride. Studies have shown that children from areas of low arts engagement and underprivileged backgrounds, could benefit greatly from this.[9]


Further to this, neuroscientists conducted a study where eighteen mothers allowed their newborn babies, between one to three days old, to have an MRI scan. When mothers spoke to their baby they observed that the new-borns were using their music processing networks to understand their mother’s voices. Young babies could hear their mother’s voice as music.

We can understand from this that music and language processes are very closely connected in the brain. At birth, we need music to process the understanding of our language, at birth we are in fact all musical.[10]


Current research demonstrates the numerous positive impacts that music has on the brain and how it rouses our mental functions. Music education has incomparable benefits for the development of brain activity, it creates neural pathways in a way not encountered in other disciplines. The inner interplays and complex rhythms that make up the amazing orchestra of our brain, encourages curiosity, intrinsic motivation, resilience and creativity.

Music teaches our brains to talk to itself, this communication is key to how effective and fast messages will be. It helps create extraordinary memory systems and advanced categorising systems, tagging memories with a smell, sight, sound or even a contextual idea that inspires and affects so many different aspects of life.  many other areas of life, which develops later in life.

Music heightens concentration. It encourages pride (no-one wants to be the one that gets the note wrong in an orchestra performance). Motivation to learn and perfect intrinsic details is an irreplaceable, incredibly valuable attitude and skill to gain in life.

Yet this research is not widely understood, for if it was, surely, we would not be seeing such unprecedented decline in the numbers of students taking music GCSE and A-levels?

So, what can we do to get greater access to studying music and to get a greater understanding of the wider benefits of making music?

Take an interest in political policies in the country to ensure we are part of the changes that affect our future generation and the community around us. As parents and carers support your child’s love of music and know that it will be a valuable future skill to have. Be vocal, get involved, support your local schools and their campaigns.

There’s currently a multitude of organisations campaigning for greater to access to music education and making, in particular:

We here at Creative United, run the scheme Take it Away. We are a not-for-profit Community Interest Company and are funded by Arts Council England. As a company, we support the BACC to the Future campaign.

Our aims are to increase access to buying musical instruments and equipment, whilst also supporting specialist music shops to remain an essential part of local music services across the country. Keep up to date with our news and check our twitter for the organisations, events and campaigns we support.

This coming October, we’ll be at Manchester’s Music and Drama Education Expo. It is Europe’s largest conference and exhibition for anyone involved in music & drama education. There will a range of workshops, lectures, debates and Q&A’s from award-winning practitioners, teachers and some of the largest music institutions and organisations.

If you have any comments or questions, email us and hopefully we can help, or take your suggestions to the expo

Footnotes and references

[1] Music Industries Association,

[2] Collins, Anita (2014)., TEDx video ‘How Playing an Instrument benefits your brain’

[3] Gaser, C., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. The Journal of Neuroscience, pg. 9240-9245

[4] Schlaug, G., Forgeard, M., Zhu, L., Norton, A., Norton, A., & Winner, E. (2009). Training‐induced Neuroplasticity in Young Children. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, pg. 205-208.

[5] Gaser, C., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. The Journal of Neuroscience, pg. 9240-9245

[6] Hyde, K., Lerch, J., Norton, A., Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Evans, A. C., (2009). Musical Training Shapes Structural Brain Development. The Journal of Neuroscience, 3019-3025.

[7] Gaser, C., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. The Journal of Neuroscience, pg. 9240-9245

[8] Gaser, C., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. The Journal of Neuroscience, pg. 9240-9245

[9] Skoe, E., & Kraus, N. (2012). A little goes a long way: how the adult brain is shaped by musical training in childhood. The Journal of Neuroscience, pg. 11507-11510.

[10] Perani, D., Saccuman, M. C., Scifo, P., Spada, D., Andreolli, G., Rovelli, R., & Koelsch, S. (2010). Functional specialisations for music processing in the human newborn brain Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences pg. 4758-4763.