Long-term positive associations between music lessons and IQ

Schellenberg, G. E. (2006). Long-term positive associations between music lessons and IQ. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 457-468.


This research, on the relationship between music lessons and intelligence and academic performance, is comprised of two studies. The first study examines the relationship of music lessons to intelligence, academic achievement, and social adjustment in six to eleven year olds. The second looks at the association of childhood music lessons with intelligence and academic achievement in 150 undergraduates. Both studies found that a lengthier period of music study was associated with higher IQ scores and higher academic achievement.

Key Findings:

  • Duration of music training had a small, positive association with intelligence for participants in both studies. The more individuals participated in music lessons, the higher their scores were on the intelligence test.
  • Music lessons were also associated with academic achievement in both studies. Greater exposure to music lessons in childhood was associated with higher scores on a measure of academic achievement and higher elementary school and high school grade-point averages.
  • These associations held even after accounting for parental education, family income, and study participants’ involvement in non-musical out-of-school activities.

Significance of the Findings:

While prior studies have also explored the relationship between intelligence and musical training, this study was the first to use full IQ tests to examine this link.


Two studies investigated the relationship between music training and intelligence. The first study examined the association between duration of music training in childhood and intelligence. Participants were 147 six- to eleven-year-old students recruited from middle-class, suburban Toronto families. Parents responded to questionnaires about their children’s participation in music lessons, family income, language background, education, and children’s involvement in non-musical out-of-school activities. Children completed the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children Third Edition (WISC-III) to measure intelligence and the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement – Brief Form (K-TEA) to measure academic achievement in math, reading, and spelling. Copies of report cards from 125 participants provided additional information on academic achievement. Parents completed the Parent rating Scale of the Behavioral Assessment System for Children (BASC) to provide information about their children’s behavior.

The second study explored the possible long-term association of music lessons and intelligence. It included 150 undergraduate students at a suburban Toronto university. Participants completed a questionnaire about their experience with music lessons and the extent to which they played a musical instrument. They also took the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale - Third Edition (WAIS-III) to measure intelligence. High school grade-point average was self-reported to provide a measure of academic achievement. Regression analyses were used in both studies.

Limitations of the Research:

Given the convenience samples, the generalizability of the findings in both studies is limited. The study was correlational; therefore, it cannot establish causality, that is, whether musical training has any actual effect on IQ or academic achievement. It is possible that musical training does not impact either outcome, but that both are impacted by other factors.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Does musical training affect intelligence or academic achievement? How could researchers address this question through a rigorous study where children are randomly assigned to be exposed to different intensities of musical training, and where researchers measure their IQ and academic achievement repeatedly over time?