Music Training and Mathematics Achievement

Article excerpt


Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) mathematics scores of eighth graders who had received music instruction were compared according to whether the students were given private lessons. Comparisons also were made between students whose lessons were on the keyboard versus other music lessons. Analyses indicated that students who had private lessons for two or more years performed significantly better on the composite mathematics portion of the ITBS than did students who did not have private lessons. In addition, students who received lessons on the keyboard had significantly higher ITBS mathematics scores than did students whose lessons did not involve the keyboard. These results are discussed in relation to previous research on music training and mathematics achievement.

The association of music with mathematics has been noted. For example, Nisbet (1991) has pointed out that there is a close relationship between the musical symbolism used in setting the time signature and the mathematical symbolism used in fractional concepts.

Numerous studies have focused on the relationship between training in a musical instrument and youths' achievement level. According to Wenger and Wenger (1990), neuroscientists suspect that when children exercise cortical neurons by being actively involved in music, they are potentially enhancing their intelligence, namely mathematics capability, spatial reasoning skills, and the ability to handle complex reasoning tasks. In fact, Rayl (1995) and Martin (1995) have reported that adolescents with formal training in music tend to have higher achievement in mathematics than do adolescents with no formal training in music. Further, other researchers (e.g., Shaw, Rauscher, Levine, Wright, Dennis, & Newcomb, 1997; Fisher & O'Malley, 1997) have found that students whose music training involves the keyboard tend to have higher achievement in mathematics than do students with other music training.

The purpose of the present study was to investigate whether type of music training is related to adolescents' mathematics achievement levels. A total of 113 students participated, all of whom received music lessons at school (36 also had private music lessons, while 77 did not have private music lessons). All had taken the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) near the end of eighth grade. Early in ninth grade, they were surveyed about their music training: type of musical instrument or instruments (voice lessons were included as a type of training), the number of years students had music lessons at school, whether private lessons were received (and number of years), and demographics, such as gender.


No significant difference was found between the ITBS mathematics scores of males and females. Of the 45 males, 13 had received private music lessons (3 of whom had lessons on the keyboard). Of the 68 females, 23 had received private lessons (17 of whom had lessons on the keyboard).

No significant difference was found between the ITBS mathematics scores of students who did and did not receive private music lessons. However, 20 of the 36 students who received private lessons had these lessons for two or more years, and a comparison of the scores of these 20 students with the scores of the 77 students who had no private lessons was conducted. …


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