What's New in Pedagogy Research?

By Johnson, Rebecca Grooms | American Music Teacher, October-November 2004 | Go to article overview
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What's New in Pedagogy Research?


Johnson, Rebecca Grooms, American Music Teacher


Does the study of music really make people smarter? Are they better in math? Are they stronger in languages? This has been a hot topic in research and general conversation for the past decade, with various studies suggesting contradictory answers. A new study by Eugenia Costa-Giomi, titled "Effects of Three Years of Piano Instruction on Children's Academic Achievement, School Performance and Self-Esteem," (1) investigates these questions.

This experiment involved 117 fourth-grade children enrolled in a school district in Montreal, Canada. These students had never participated in formal music instruction, did not have a piano and came from homes with a low family income and a high incidence of unemployment and single parents. Half the students were in a control group and did not receive piano lessons, but were tested at the end of each of the three years of the study. The other half received free piano lessons, and a free acoustic piano was placed in each of their homes. During the study a third group developed, consisting of those who were given lessons but dropped out of the program. All the children were given a battery of tests before the program began. These included standardized tests for language, mathematics, self-esteem, musical aptitude, fine motor skills and developing cognitive abilities. The results of these tests showed the two groups were equal in all areas. The children were retested with appropriate levels of tests at the end of the first, second and third years of the study. The researcher also had access to the students' report cards from the year prior to the study (third grade) to the end of the study (sixth grade) to evaluate overall school performance.

The results of the testing indicated the piano lessons had a significant benefit for self-esteem and school grades for music courses, but did not affect their test results or school grades for math or language. Costa-Giomi speculates that the positive benefit for self-esteem might have been the result of the individual attention from the experienced piano teacher, possibly some attention to practice in the home, the opportunities to perform in recitals in front of their peers and relatives and the experience of developing their musical interests and abilities. The positive effect of the piano instruction was not influenced by the child's sex, parental employment or family income and structure.

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