Pregnant woman playing music to unborn baby

Rock me Amadeus

Does music make you smarter?

In 1998, the Governor of the US state of Georgia, Zell Miller, decreed that all Georgian children should be given a tape or CD of classical music. He believed in the ‘Mozart effect’ – that listening to classical music could boost your brainpower.

In fact, Miller was overstating the case. Listening to Mozart only stimulated spatial reasoning – people got better at solving mazes – and only for about ten minutes after their dose of culture.

And not everyone is convinced that Mozart is anything special. Some argue that the effect is simply down to mood and arousal. One study found a Mozart effect in young children listening to pop music. It’s also been seen in rodents navigating mazes. The biggest effect, though, has probably been on sales of Mozart’s ‘Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major’ (K. 448).

Yet there is a widespread belief that music is ‘good for you’. Indeed, there is some evidence that learning to play an instrument can enhance abilities in other areas – the transfer effect. For example, some mathematical reasoning comes more easily to the musically trained child. Other skills such as reading, motor coordination and conceptual reasoning also appear to be improved by musical education.

Despite the enthusiasm of some parents-to-be for bombarding their babies with Mozart while in the womb, there is little evidence that any benefits result.

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About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Music, Mind and Medicine’ in June 2009 and reviewed and updated in July 2014.

Music, Mind and Medicine
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development