Researchers from the University of Kansas have confirmed what decades of anecdotal evidence and the evidence on this site and elsewhere suggests : that increased music participation has important direct and indirect effects on student achievement and engagement. This isn’t a recent study but it has a robust sample, and we’ve just found it – so we’re sharing it here.
A baseline study commissioned by Nashville’s Music Makes Us initiative (published in October 2013), examined four years of district-wide data on the 2012 graduating class (6006 pupils), as well as student surveys (71 received) and focus groups (93 participants), to determine what influence music can have on students.
It showed that students in music programs outperformed their peers on every indicator: grade-point average, graduation rate, ACT scores, attendance and discipline referrals. Overall, the study demonstrated that the more a student participates in music, the more positive these benefits become.
The Arts Education Partnership (AEP) in Washington DC published a useful advocacy document for music education in 2011, funded by the Quincy Jones Musiq Consortium. It was based on a review of an extensive body of high-quality, evidence-based studies that document student learning outcomes in and through music.
The results show conclusively that music education equips students with the foundational abilities to learn, to achieve in other core academic subjects, and to develop the capacities, skills and knowledge essential for lifelong success.
The document summarises the benefits around three main areas: (1) Music education prepares students to learn; (2) Music education facilitates student academic achievement; and (3) Music education develops the creative capacities for lifelong success.
This image shows functional MRI imaging during mental task switching: Panels A and B shows brain activation in musically trained and untrained children, respectively. Panel C shows brain areas that are more active in musically trained than musically untrained children. Credit: Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Boston Children’s Hospital
Another study has revealed a biological link between early music training and improved executive functioning in children and adults. The controlled study by researchers from the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children’s Hospital used functional MRI brain imaging to show the connection. Executive functions are the high-level cognitive processes that enable people to quickly process and retain information, regulate their behaviours, make good choices, solve problems, plan and adjust to changing mental demands.
The German Socio-Economic Panel study (SOEP) is believed by its authors to be the best
available longitudinal data set for studying the effects of learning a musical instrument.
Its most recent report by Adrian Hille and Jürgen Schupp, concludes that even after controlling for a large number of social background characteristics, there are strong differences in terms of cognitive and non-cognitive skills between adolescents who learned a musical instrument during childhood and those who did not. Learning a musical instrument is associated with better cognitive skills and school grades as well as higher conscientiousness, openness, and ambition. Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theatre or dance. These effects do not differ by socio-economic status.
Tom Barnes summarises the scientific reasons why schools in America should not cut music education, referencing studies into cognitive abilities, confidence, attendance levels and civic responsibility.
Research has shown that the long break from school over the summer holidays can result in some children forgetting the academic skills learned over the school year. Studies by Florida International University confirm that children can lose about 2.6 months of their maths skills over the summer, and some groups of children lose two months of reading skills.
An article posted on the Chicago Tribune website suggests that music can help, and quotes a range of practitioners and experts.
Another powerful presentation from academic Anita Collins, asking what the impact might be if a generation’s cognitive abilities are raised – and she gives evidence that it’s possible – through music education.
Adolescents involved with music do better in school according to research by The Ohio State University. The study reveals that taking part in music lessons in or out of school, and parents attending concerts with their children, has a positive effect on reading and mathematic achievement in early childhood and adolescence – and that participation is affected by socioeconomic status and ethnicity.