How Can Learning an Instrument Benefit the Whole Learning Of A Pupil?

Gary Cunningham
8 min readJan 25, 2021


There have been various studies over the years to showcase the benefits of learning a musical instrument. These benefits include improve co-ordination, improved cognitive ability, development of interpersonal skills and so on, the benefit that most articles don’t talk about is how it can aid a learner in their school based learning, this is what I’d like to explore today, starting with National Policy for Music Education within the United Kingdom.

National Policy

The first point of focus must be on the U.K national policy for Music Education. There are many documents pertaining to this, the first one is from the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) — specifically their national curriculum for music. Their view is that the arts as a whole needs to be respected and employed in school, as acknowledged by Susan Aykin, Ofsted National Lead for visual and performing arts, she says; “A school that has all of its eggs in English and Maths would be unlikely to get an outstanding judgment because the wider curriculum is very important, It would be difficult to be judged as an outstanding school if you did not pay heed to the importance of the arts in your curriculum.” (2018) Although this isn’t directly linking to the learning of an instrument, it does show that those organisations at the center of education are starting to realise the importance of Music and the benefits of being involved in Music when it comes to classroom-based learning.

Another key organisation looking at how music hubs are used and how they benefit the whole learning of a pupil is Ofsted. In their latest report “Music in schools: what hubs must do” they outline various changes needed to the way hubs are being used in schools, this again shows a recognition from a major organisation within UK Education that Music and specifically 1–1 and workshop lessons are wholly beneficial to students both in and outside the classroom. The report also talks about ensuring that initiatives like “first access” are linked to the school’s main curriculum; “the hubs rarely ensured that first access work, or the choice of instruments, was linked well with the schools’ own curriculum.” (Ofsted, 2013)

Music In The Wider Classroom Context

The importance of music for the whole education of a pupil is further reiterated in a paper from the Department for education titled “The importance of music: a national plan for Music Education.” There are various mentions of music education in the wider school community with one key quote capturing the issue perfectly; “Music helps bind pupils into the wider life of the school.” (Department for Education, n.d.)

The above quote from the Department for Education brings me onto the social benefits of learning an instrument, specifically the socio-emotional development and well-being within children. According to a study by Dawn Rose, a researcher in the psychology of music and dance at the University of Hertfordshire; “ children who had chosen to learn an instrument were considered by both their parents and teachers to be less anxious than those who had received only group lessons.” (Rose,D. n.d.)

This is because those that are able to play an instrument often find themselves in an ensemble such as a school band or choir. This affords those involved the opportunity to interact socially with other children of both the same age and sometimes older and younger, the sometimes mixed age groups allows children to develop a matured social awareness of people of different ages, music is a universal language which means it is accessible for children of all backgrounds, this means children will be able to also interact with children who are considered “different” to them, thus making them more keenly aware of the different sorts of people that exist within society. Further, being part of an ensemble presents many performance scenarios such as a school assembly or end of year concert. The ongoing performances will develop a child’s confidence both in and out of the classroom.

Finally, working in ensemble groups allows children to develop leadership qualities which will then aid them in class as their confidence grows, they will develop the skills to contribute to class discussions and give class presentations and even lead a small group of their peers, should a module require it.

Music & Cognitive Performance

According to Dr Frances Rauscher of the University of Wisconsin who conducted research on music and cognitive performance; “young children provided with instrumental instruction score significantly higher on tasks measuring spatial-temporal cognition, hand-eye coordination and arithmetic.” (Rauscher, F. 2006) This is further supported by Lutz Jäncke, a psychologist from the university of Zurich who stated: “learning to play a musical instrument has definite benefits and can increase IQ by 7 points in both children and adults.” (The Telegraph,2009)

Music is often used in young children to aid brain development and is also continually used as children get older to help learn things such as physical tasks and movements, this is supported by a study conducted by the university of Edinburgh mentioned in the BBC news. This study showed that “People who practised a basic movement to music showed “increased structural connectivity between the regions of the brain that process sound and control movement.” (University of Edinburgh, 2017)

Keeping the focus on the brain, the act of learning an instrument and learning it well, will leave the student with a feeling that they are achieving something which will then release dopamine, just like listening to music does. A happy student means a more focused student inside the classroom which will then grossly improve focus, improved focus means improved attainment. Dr Arvind Gupta validated this with the following; “Music can activate us emotionally, mentally and physically to help us remember the learning experience and information. Music can also create a highly focused learning state in which large amounts of content information can be processed and learned.” (Gupta,A n.d)

Music & Attainment

There have been further studies conducted showing that being involved in music can improve a child’s attainment at school due to the fact that it engages so much of a child’s brain. A quote pulled from The Benefits of Music Education a report from The Royal Conservatory states “Musical activity involves nearly every part of the brain that we know about, and nearly every neural subsystem.” (Levitin, D. This is your brain on music, p.229)

Classic FM have also said that “Learning to play an instrument stimulates the brain, improving functions like memory and abstract reasoning skills, which are essential for maths and science.” Learning an instrument also gives a student discipline which is essential within a learning environment if high attainment wants to be achieved.

Music and Discipline

In this case, discipline refers to the act of continuing with something to reach a goal. For example, if a student wants to achieve their instrumental grades, a well thought out and organised practice routine would need to be established. If a pupil can establish a commitment with regular practicing, they will be more likely to complete homework and other tasks set by a teacher to be completed outside of school. This is supported by Dr Peter Gouzouasis, a professor at the University of British Columbia, who said “Music may also enhance one’s motivation to learn, since it involves practice, self-discipline and mastering complex skills.”

Further, a regular practice routine requires good time management, this is in order to ensure that there is time factored into the day to practice everyday. This is reiterated by Michael Matthews of The Brenham Music Academy: “in order for a musician to progress quicker, he/she will learn how to organise his/her practice time and plan different challenges to work on, making efficient use of the time.” (Matthews, M n.d.)

The Physical Benefits of Music

There are also physical benefits to learning an instrument, mainly the improvement of gross and fine motor skills. For example, when learning the Piano a student will need to learn about dexterity and become able to employ fine motor skills and independent hand movement This is all according to The London Piano Institute, they state that “learning the piano lowers your blood pressure through the decrease in stress and also develops your motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination.” (The London Piano Institute, 2019)

Music tuition can also help improve reading skills, as supported by the psychology of music journal: “Children exposed to a multi-year program of music tuition involving training in increasingly complex rhythmic, tonal, and practical skills display superior cognitive performance in reading skills compared with their non-musically trained peers.” (Psychology of music, 2009) A child’s ability to read is one of the most integral skills that is taught throughout their time in education and any help that is available to children in honing their reading skills, be it extra English tuition or exposure to other activities aimed at increasing cognitive function and reading skills should be welcomed with open arms in every educational establishment.

To conclude, it is extremely evident that learning an instrument can aid children of varying ages and key stages both in the classroom and outside of it. Allowing the development of both educational and social skills. The importance of music has been solidified in the unwavering support of those in authoritative positions in U.K Education and there seems to be a very positive change in attitude to Music with the benefits of it becoming ever more clear.


ISM. (2019). A revised framework for curriculum pedagogy and assessment in key stage 3 music. [ONLINE] available at:

Ofsted. (2013) Music In Schools: What Hubs Must Do. [ONLINE] available at:

The Department for Education. (n.d.) The importance of Music, a national plan for education [ONLINE] available at:

Rose, D. (n.d.) How Music Benefits Children. [ONLINE] available at:

The London Piano Institute. (2019). How Learning The Piano Can Improve Other Areas Of Your Life. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 11 December 2019]

Classic FM. (2018). 10 Reasons You Should Take Up A Musical Instrument. [ONLINE]. Available at: [accessed 1 November 2019]

Leung, W. World Economic Forum. (2019). Learning a musical instrument helps children to achieve higher grades here’s why. [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed 1 November 2019]

Levitin, D. (2008). This is your brain on music: Understanding a human obsession. Atlantic Books.

Rauscher, F. (2006) Educational Phycologist. The Mozart Effect: Music Listening Is Not Music Instruction. [ONLINE] Available at: [accessed 12 December 2019]

The Royal Conservatory. (n.d) The Benefits of Music Education [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 11 December 2019]

BBC. (2017). Learning with music can improve brain structure. [ONLINE] available at:

Matthews, M. (n.nd.) 18 benefits of playing a musical instrument [ONLINE] Available at:

The Telegraph. (2009). Playing A Musical Instrument Makes You Brainier. [ONLINE] available at: [accessed 21 December 2019]

SAGE Publications. (2009). Psychology of Music. Music Education Can Help Children Improve Reading Skills. [ONLINE] available at: [accessed 21 December 2019]



Gary Cunningham

Musician | Music Educator | Brand Founder | Music Education Advocate