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Playing Mozart for your child may not make them a genius, but a good exposure to music might.

In the midst of endless refrains about arts funding needing to be cut to make room for additional STEM classes, educators would do well to remember the concrete benefits that programs such as music provide. As it turns out, music can enhance cognitive development—but with the sizable caveat that students need to be willing to study and perform it without being forced.

Active participation in music classes was what set students apart from the norm, according to research published in Frontiers in Psychology. Even among students that were already highly motivated, engagement in a music class was enough to show marked improvement in neural processing.

However, results from these and similar studies should often be taken with a grain of salt. While a correlation has been found between music performance and metrics such as SAT scores, this is often because students with the drive to learn and perfect an instrument are also the most likely to strive for excellence in academia.

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds may not be as likely to adopt music as a hobby or academic discipline, likely because there are often greater concerns in their lives. For these kinds of students, music is not a quick fix for issues, but rather an option available to them to get involved and do something that they enjoy.

Research also suggests that the type of music class matters as well. Performing, rather than simply studying, music was found to be far more beneficial. The study sought to measure brain activity directly rather than using some kind of testing as a metric.

So why the benefit? Previous research has found that innate understanding of music can improve the way the brain processes sound. In fact, exposure to music can help a child’s brain process any sort of language. Reading is closely linked to music comprehension, as segmenting and understanding words on a page is quite similar to dividing music by things like notes and measures.

In short, sound helps students in more than just music class. But how to involve students in music?

One of the best options may be joining a marching band. These bands are generally available for middle and high schoolers and are a great extracurricular activity. Regardless of instrument, students are able to become part of a larger unit that may perform year-round. It encourages the mixing of a diversity of people from different disciplines and age groups and involves as much teamwork as any sport.

Students that play orchestral instruments also have access to a variety of options. Various ensembles along with pit orchestra for school musicals give a steady stream of options for students looking to practice a certain variety of music.

Regardless of the outlet, taking an active interest in music can positively impact childhood development, even when in high school. Whether exposing music to children or supporting a local music class or program, it’s important to ensure that this critical discipline does not fall by the wayside in education!