Children who play instruments do better

There is increasing international evidence that playing a musical instrument has a positive impact on attainment at school but little research has been undertaken in the UK. This study, published in 2016, drew on data from an English Local Authority, on attainment at age 11 and 16 relating to 608 students, 115 of whom played a musical instrument. The findings showed that the young people playing an instrument made greater progress and had better academic outcomes. The greatest impact was for those playing longest.the greatest impact for those playing the longest. 

In the UK, where Sistema-inspired programmes focus on children in primary schools in deprived areas, Smithhurst (2011) reported that after one year of participation in the programme, children in Years 1–4 (aged 5–9) in one school were achieving better scores in mathematics, reading and writing compared with their peers who were not involved. 90 per cent of the children were reaching target grades in mathematics compared with 68 per cent not involved in the programme. Similar trends were evident in reading with 85 per cent of programme children reaching target grades compared with 62 per cent not in the programme, and in writing, 65 per cent compared with 45 per cent. Burns and Bewick (2011) reported that after two years of participating in the programme where children engaged with music for 4.5 hours per week, 43 per cent of the children had progressed more than four levels in mathematics, 53 per cent in reading, and 42 per cent in writing, compared with a national average of three levels, despite the fact that the participants included a high proportion of children with special educational needs. However, the rate of improvement slowed as participation continued.


In the UK, national testing of children’s attainment at age 11 and national examinations at age 16 provide the opportunity for an objective assessment of the role of playing a musical instrument on progress and final outcomes. The aim of the current study is to explore whether students learning to play a musical instrument have enhanced achievement at age 16 in performance on UK national examinations taking into account their performance on national tests at age 11. The specific research questions are: 

  1. Does playing a musical instrument enhance performance on examinations at age 16?

  2. Does the length of time playing a musical instrument impact on performance on examinations at age 16?

The short answers are 1) Yes 2) Yes – the longer they play, the better their academic performance.


Hallam, S., & Rogers, K. (2016). The impact of instrumental music learning on attainment at age 16: A pilot study. British Journal of Music Education, 33(3), 247-261. doi:10.1017/S0265051716000371


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