Can Music Instruction Affect Children's Cognitive Development? (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Jan 26, 2011

Music Instruction and Mathematics

Some studies have found that music instruction can also affect certain mathematical abilities. Researchers compared the proportional reasoning scores of several groups of children (n = 136, ages 7 to 9 years), including one group who received computer-generated spatial-temporal training alone and another group who received the same spatial-temporal training coupled with piano keyboard instruction (Graziano, Peterson, & Shaw, 1999). The proportional reasoning of the children was then tested. Although both groups scored higher than a control group, the group that included piano training scored significantly higher than the group that did not.

A more recent study found that at-risk children who received two years of individual keyboard instruction scored higher on a standardized arithmetic test than children in control groups, including a group that received computer instruction to rule out a possible Hawthorn effect (Rauscher & LeMieux, 2003). Children who received singing instruction also scored higher than controls. Children who received instruction on rhythm instruments performed best on a mathematical reasoning task.

A meta-analysis combining six experimental studies provides tentative support for the notion that music training affects mathematical achievement (Vaughn, 2000). However, six is a very small number, and more research is clearly needed. Several correlational studies do, however, suggest a relationship. For example, one study involving 96 children, ages 5-7 years, found that those who received 7 months of supplementary music and visual arts classes achieved higher standardized mathematics scores than children who received the schools' typical music and arts training (Gardiner et al., 1996). Unfortunately, random assignment was not possible due to logistics and the school administrators' need to keep classes intact. Furthermore, the music instruction was provided in conjunction with arts training, making it impossible to determine if the effects found were due to music instruction or arts training.

Music Instruction and Reading

A meta-analysis of a set of 24 correlational studies, some involving sample sizes of over 500,000 high school students, found a strong and reliable association between music instruction and reading test scores (Butzlaff, 2000). A more recent study found that ninety 6- to 15-year-old boys with music training had significantly better verbal memory than children without such training (Ho, Cheung, & Chan, 2003). The longer the training, the better the verbal memory. These studies provide some support for a correlation between music instruction and verbal abilities.

However, a meta-analysis conducted on six experimental studies provided little evidence of a causal relationship (Butzlaff, 2000). The effect sizes were highly variable, indicating that the overall finding is not stable. Therefore, it is unwise to conclude that music affects reading ability based on this analysis.

Experimental research performed with 8- to 11-year-old children with reading problems found that the reading skills of children who received music instruction (n = 6) were significantly higher than those of children who did not receive the instruction (n = 6) (Douglas & Willatts, 1994). However, a study of nine dyslexic boys with a mean age of 8.8 years found that music instruction improved rapid temporal processing skills, phonological skills, and spelling skills, but not reading skills (Overy, 2002). Overall, the studies suggest that it is premature to conclude that music instruction affects reading ability.

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