Can music really enhance learning?

A number of studies have shown that a short time listening to music can enhance spatial reasoning skills to a greater extent than no music. We look at the so called 'Mozart Effect' and how this can influence learning

Published 10 March 2022


Accessing music today has become much more readily available to the public than in the past when we were limited to CDs, tapes and even records. Today, thee are so many devices that play music digitally such as computers, mobile phones, or ipods all at the touch of a button!. The choice is endless- enabling you to choose music from a wide range of genres and occasions  to suit your mood and due to advances in music technology, the effect of music and learning has stimulated quite a lot of research in the last decade or so.

How do music and learning fit together

The ‘Mozart Effect’ is probably the most well known approach in this field and was discovered way back in 1993 by Californian scientists 

Rauscher et al., 1993)

to test whether music - Mozart specifically had any effect on improving spatial reasoning skills. There were three groups of participants:-


Group 1

Listened to a Mozart sonata (K448) for 10 minutes before completing a spatial reasoning task

Group 2

Listened to relaxation instructions to lower blood pressure before the task

Group 3

Silence before the task

Regions of the brain - The temporal and frontal lobes most associated with higher order learning

Results showed that listening to Mozart had a direct impact on spatial abilities compared to the other two conditions. - mean IQ scores were 8-9 points higher than in the other two groups. The authors claim that the music prior to the task stimulated the brain beforehand in readiness for the task whereas the other groups had no such stimulation. Subsequent studies have had mixed results with some producing small increases in spatial ability whilst others have found no difference.

Does the Mozart Effect really exist?

The findings have been criticised on the grounds that any positive results are due to ‘enjoyment arousal’ but this has been countered by experiments with rats and nice who were exposed to Mozart's piano sonata K448 and the minimalist music by Phillip Glass. The rats in the Mozart group completed a maze more quickly than the other group and this can not be put down to ‘enjoyment arousal’.

Is there something specific about the music of Mozart?

Techniques such as Positron Emission Topography (PET) scans enable scientists to compare those parts of the brain that are active when listening to music  and when doing spatial reasoning tasks; it appears that these regions overlap in the brain so listening to music prepares those regions for processing spatial reasoning tasks. But it isn't just any music - both JS Bach and JC Bach appear to create similar effects to Mozart and it may be due to the tempo, structure, melody and harmony of certain pieces of music from these composers.


What about the effect of music and learning with children?

In one study, pre-school children (aged 3-4 years) were given keyboard music lessons for 6 months and at the end performed simple melodies by Mozart and Beethoven. when they were asked  to do age appropriate spatial reasoning tasks they performed 30% better than children who had not had musical training. The effect seems to be limited to spatial reasoning only and has no effect on general IQ or spatial recognition.