Music Engagement and Achievement Predicts Higher Grades in Math, Science and English

By Gouzouasis, Peter; Professor et al. | The Canadian Press, July 2, 2019 | Go to article overview

Music Engagement and Achievement Predicts Higher Grades in Math, Science and English


Gouzouasis, Peter, Professor, University of British Columbia and Martin Guhn, Professor, Assistant, University of British Columbia, The Canadian Press


Music engagement and achievement predicts higher grades in math, science and English

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Authors: Peter Gouzouasis, Professor, University of British Columbia and Martin Guhn, Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia

What does maturing mean after elementary school? Here's one thing it shouldn't mean: dropping music at school.

My colleagues and I at the University of British Columbia studied over 110,000 public school students. We learned that students involved in extended music engagement (between grades 8 - 12) do one full year better academically than non-music peers, particularly when engaged in instrumental music sustained over years of schooling. Also, music achievement predicts academic achievement in math, science and English.

Music matters for its own sake, but also because, as our study shows, music engagement sustained from childhood into adolescence - particularly instrumental music that begins in elementary school - is significantly related to better high school achievement.

Study: Rich data

Thanks to rich educational and socio-economic data capturing the full population of B.C. public school students for several cohorts, we had an unprecedented opportunity to examine how student participation in music and music achievement predicted and related to provincial examination scores in high school English, math and science subjects. We looked at scores from provincial testing from Grade 10 math, science and English as well as Grade 12 English in relationship to students' participation in music.

In our study, we counted both the number of high school courses taken, as well as student high school involvement and grades in graduation program music courses (concert band, jazz band, orchestra, piano and choir) taken across public high school years (Grades 8-12).

Based on previous research we inferred that music involvement that continued up to Grade 12 would be associated with (and predict) higher high school grades in mathematics, science and English. We expected instrumental music would have a more pronounced positive impact than vocal music.

We found that this is true, even when we take into account the following four factors: children's prior elementary school educational achievement in numeracy and literacy, as captured by the B.C. Foundation Skills Assessment Grade 7 examination; gender; socioeconomic background (as gauged by the student's home neighbourhood); linguistic diversity, captured by language spoken in the home.

We used a statistical regression model and adjusted our analyses to control for those four factors. We did this to demonstrate that these factors were not key determinants in musical or academic achievement and to address the problem of what researchers call confounding -- unaccounted-for factors that might lead to incorrect findings.

While we are not yet able to infer causality -- that music causes students to be smarter or improve their grades -- we were able to identify a predictive relationship between music achievement and academic achievement, and demonstrate that more music engagement can be better for overall learning.

Sustained engagement

A handful of experiments have found that students randomly assigned to music training outperform those assigned to non-music groups.

But music is an inherently complex phenomenon -- there are many ways to make and engage with music. Many other studies have examined music participation but they didn't take into account different types of music making such as instrumental music, vocal music, or other forms and amounts of engagement.

Also, several earlier studies have been based on small, unrepresentative samples or considered only brief exposure to music training -- whereas a central claim substantiated by our study underscores the academic achievement benefits from sustained engagement in music training over several years. …

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