Can Music Help Shape Who We Are?

By Maryann Harman

My answer is “Absolutely!”

Martin Gardiner of Brown University tracked the criminal records of Rhode Island residents from birth through age 30, and he concluded that the more a resident was involved in music, the lower the person’s arrest record. (“Music Linked to Reduced Criminality,” MuSICA Research Notes, Winter 2000.)  Music has been shown to help self-regulation, body control and ability to work with others as well as independently.  All these skills contribute to one’s feeling confident and capable, thus less likely to participate in criminal activity.

A study at the University of South Florida concluded that the highest common denominator among repeat violent offenders was a lack of language skills. When do you feel the most frustration?  When you aren’t understood.  The ability to be able to express yourself effectively leads to better feelings about yourself and better relationships.  Music is a wonderful vehicle to learn language, how to express oneself and how to consider someone else’s emotion. When we sing songs, i.e. “If You’re Happy and You Know it,” we are teaching the exploration of feelings.

Students who participate in school music ensembles have the lowest levels of current and lifelong use of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs among any group in our society.  (H. Con. Res 266, United States Senate, June 13, 2000.)  Another interesting study supports the question that names this blog entry.  When children feel a part of something positive, they are less likely to be influenced by peers to be a part of something negative. Teaching children to fill their time with pleasant activities with people they enjoy teaches them to surround themselves with positive people and stay involved with these activities.

In a 1999 Columbia University study, students in the arts were found to be more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self-confident, and better able to express their ideas. These benefits exist across socioeconomic levels. – The Arts Education Partnership, 1999.  Isn’t that wonderful to know?  It crosses socioeconomic levels!  It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, how much money your parents earn or what clothes you wear, music does not recognize any of that.  Music just reaches inside you and helps to shape you into the best you that you can be!

Maryann Harman, BA Music Ed/M. Ed, is a CMN member and the founder of Music with Mar, Inc. an international music and movement program using music to help children bond with families while developing skills needed to be successful in life.  Her blog posts weekly from her site


  1. Could you please send us the bibliographical details for these studies please? I’d love to read the original work. I’ve heard them quoted often, but never had the info to track the original research down. Thanks!

    1. Sally, I have put in the source of the research for each quote. Do you need more than that? If you put the name of the researcher in Google, the entire report comes up. That is how I found it. Please let me know if you need more. Thanks for reading.

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