Smart Start Science

Grounded in science  

Developed by Dr. Sean Hutchins, neuroscientist and Director of Research at The Royal Conservatory, and Catherine West, Early Childhood Music Education expert, Smart Start aims to enhance both musical and cognitive skills in young children.   


Smart Start’s curriculum emphasizes and enhances the cognitive work that naturally occurs during music practice focusing on four primary skills: attention, memory, perception, and cognitive flexibility. The thousands of activities in the Smart Start curriculum address one or more of these cognitive skills, in addition to specific musical goals.  


Research-based curriculum design   

Smart Start is based on decades of neuroscientific research on the effects of music training on the developing brain. Studies comparing musicians to non-musicians show strong and consistent differences associated with music training in areas of perception, language, spatial abilities, and even IQ, as well as display differences in the brain itself, with musicians showing more grey matter and connectivity in areas related to sound processing and executive functions. Cognitive skills such as perception of fine differences, memorization, attention, and creativity are practiced during music training and are transferable to other areas of a musician’s life. 


Studying Smart Start  

Smart Start was developed in 2014 at The Royal Conservatory’s Marilyn Thomson Early Childhood Education Centre and is offered at the Oscar Peterson School of Music at The RCM's headquarters in Toronto. Since the program's inception, the organization's neuroscience centre has studied participants' perceptual, linguistic, and cognitive outcomes.


Smart Start studies show long-term benefits of the program including increased vocabulary size, pre-reading ability, and phonemic awareness as well as musical improvements over one-year and four-year spans. These improvements extend beyond normal developmental progression during this timeframe and further corroborate the link between music and cognition. The results of our studies are used to adjust and adapt the Smart Start curriculum to ensure that it is as effective as possible in improving musical and cognitive skills.  




For Teachers and Parents! Download our Free Smart Start Handbook which includes:

  • Musical activities from the Smart Start curriculum
  • Curated articles about the connections between music, language, cognition, and learning
  • A handy guide to enrollment and getting started with the SmartStart app