Music students score better on tests, study finds

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July 17, 2019

Teens involved in music-related activities — instrumental music, especially — score higher on English, math and science exams than their nonmusical peers, according to a new study led by University of British Columbia education professor Peter Gouzouasis.

"Students who learned to play a musical instrument in elementary and continued playing in high school not only score significantly higher but were about one academic year ahead of their non-music peers with regard to their English, mathematics and science skills," Gouzouasis says. "The more the students engage with music, the better they do in those subjects."

The study — recently published in the Journal of Educational Psychology — analyzed a cohort of more than 112,000 public school students and controlled for socioeconomic background, ethnicity, gender and prior learning in numeracy and literacy skills.

Researchers found the correlation between music participation and academic success to be strongest among students who practice instrumental music.

"Learning to play a musical instrument and playing in an ensemble is very demanding," co-author Martin Guhn says. "A student has to learn to read music notation, develop eye-hand-mind coordination, develop keen listening skills, develop team skills for playing in an ensemble, and develop discipline to practice. All those learning experiences, and more, play a role in enhancing the learner's cognitive capacities, executive functions, motivation to learn in school, and self-efficacy."

Gouzouasis hopes his research will highlight the value of music engagement in education and influence the decisions of school administrators at a time when numeracy and literacy skills are prioritized above the arts.

"Often, resources for music education — including the hiring of trained, specialized music educators, and band and stringed instruments — are cut or not available in elementary and secondary schools so that they could focus on math, science, and English," he says. "The irony is that music education can be the very thing that improves all-around academic achievement and an ideal way to have students learn more holistically in schools."

Read more about Gouzouasis' study at Psychology Today.