Piano instruction improves children’s executive functioning

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Neuroscience research has reported significant benefits of music instruction for brain development. Findings have included increasing the size of the cerebellum, improved neural plasticity, and structural changes which improve brain functioning. 

Executive functioning

While there is ongoing research on music and neuroscience there remains further development in the area music instruction and executive functions in children. Executive functioning refers to the ability of organise, guide, direct, and manage cognitive, emotional, and behavioural functions to solve problems. It allows individuals the ability to set goals, plan and engage in future-oriented behaviour, and inhibit inappropriate responses or patterns of behaviour. Research findings on executive functioning and music are typically undertaken with adult musicians and non-musicians. 

Qui, Jeanneret and Brown (2013) conducted research not he development of executive functioning in preschool children via piano instruction. The study took place over a 12 month period with pre-school students. A test group and a control group were established. The test group received 12 months of piano instruction.

The analysis involved pre and post-examination on a variety of tests seeking to establish executive functioning ability. The results found students in the test group who received piano instruction for 12 month showed significant improvements in several areas of executive functioning including that of emotional control, planning, organisation skills, and behavioural control. 

Piano instruction improves executive functioning

More importantly, these significant improvements were significant beyond what would be expected of a child’s normal progression of executive functioning at that age. The researcher’s results demonstrated that children’s executive functioning improved after 12 months of piano instruction. Although the control group who did not receive piano instruction also made improvement in their executive functioning, it was at a level considered standard for their age group. The test group exceeded the standard growth levels in executive functioning for their age.

In sum, piano instruction for children was found to be positively associated with executive function development. It is worth noting that executive functioning also improves with factors other than piano instruction. Some of the improvements may have been moderated by external factors such as teacher and parent involvement.

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Qiu, Z., Jeanneret, N., & Brown, R. (2013). Piano instruction and executive function in preschool children. Paper presented at the XIX – National Conference Proceedings. Redefining the musical landscape: Inspired learning and innovation in music education.

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