This commentary originally aired on March 3, 2015.
You’ve all heard about The Mozart Effect, the theory that listening to classical music will “make you smarter.” Whether or not research bears this out, the Mozart Effect has become a rallying cry for music educators and is even a trademarked way to sell CDs to parents hoping their kids would eventually get high-paying jobs.
Personally, I think everybody is missing the boat. Music has much higher value than its potential to raise kids' math scores. Music can and should be an end in itself. Involvement with music means sharing, creating, expressing, cooperating, thinking critically and solving problems in real time. I’m going to go out on a limb and say these are pretty important life skills.
Not to mention the cultural benefits. To be a part of society means being able to tell and appreciate the difference between Elgar, Ellington and Eminem.
The Mozart Effect researchers found a rise in a very specific and limited type of reasoning 15 minutes after subjects listened to a Mozart sonata. My guess is that better results would come from more than just passive listening, though. Playing and singing mean active engagement. Music teaches the kinds of things that aptitude tests have a hard time quantifying, but precisely the things that make humans truly valuable in school, in the workplace and in the universe.