Friday, May 6, 2011

'learning to play a musical instrument can improve math skills' Really?

"learning to play a musical instrument can improve math skills"  Really?

When I've looked at this before, it was a correlative relationship but causation was not demonstrated.  So, it appeared that students with the perseverance and intelligence needed to learn a musical instrument also applied themselves in math class.  That's quite different from saying piano playing improves math skills.

Now this press release from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities comes out.
A study by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities says arts education is an effective tool for school reform, even as arts education funding has declined.
The "Reinvesting in Arts Education" study being released Friday examined recent data from schools in Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Chicago and New York City. It finds integrating the arts with other subjects is particularly effective at raising achievement in math and reading.
In the report, Education Secretary Arne Duncan writes that data demonstrates arts education improves achievement in other subjects. Visual arts instruction improves reading, and learning to play a musical instrument can improve math skills. Students engaged in the arts also had higher attendance rates.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded the report.
The Knight Foundation funds arts programs.  I cannot seem to access the report now, but maybe I'll be able to read it later.


  1. It is well known that musical ability correlates with mathematical ability, and even more so, ability at computer science. Back in the early days of computers, IBM used to hire musicians to train as programmers.

  2. Yeah, I just learned that one of the former heads of Sony, and the inventor of the CD, was an aspiring opera singer. But I haven't seen anyone demonstrate that singing opera will help your math skills, which seems to be what so many of these music educators claim.

  3. There is certainly a correlation. Psychologists hypothesize that the abstraction process is similar to both fields. It is not clear, though, if learning music would help with math, or if conversely, learning math would make you a better musician.

  4. I am certain that there is a connection between math and music, but I've never looked into carefully. My son is great at math and great at music (currently playing piano, but has played a whole variety of instruments in the past), and I can feel it in my bones that there is a connection -- but that's all I know.

    And on a related note, if you haven't discovered Vi-hart, the Mathemusician, you have to check her out.