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Piano Lessons Increase Math Skills

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - March, 1999

From Associated Press, Los Angeles

Music lessons coupled with a special computer program significantly increased the math skills of children at an inner city elementary school, according to a study.

Learning piano and how to read music helped the children to recognize rhythmic values, note values - such as an eighth note being half of a quarter note - and identify letter names - E, G, B, D, F - from a note's scale placement, the researchers said.

The computer program included spatial exercises such as assembling pieces of a puzzle and arranging geometric pieces in particular orders, according to the report in Monday's edition of Neurological Research.

"The learning of music emphasizes thinking in space and time," the report said. "When children learn rhythm, they are learning ratios, fractions, and proportions. With the keyboard, students have a clear visual representation of auditory space."

The four-month project was led by University of California, Irvine, professor Gordon Shaw, whose previous studies have linked music with above-average skills in spatial concepts found in mathematics, architecture and engineering.

At the 95th Street school, which ranks 48th on the list of Los Angeles' 100 poorest-performing institutions, 136 second graders were divided into several groups, some receiving piano and nonverbal computer training, and others receiving a mixture of computer and English-language math instruction.

The student's test results were compared to a 1997 pilot study in which 102 second graders in below-average schools in Orange County were given only computer program and traditional math teaching.

The Los Angeles students scored 27 percent higher than their Orange County counterparts in their ability to understand and analyze ratios and fractions - concepts usually not introduced until sixth grade.

"That 27 percent increase was just in four months", Shaw said Friday. "Continued music training would continue to boost that. Kids who could play more sophisticated music would increase their enhancement in math skills."

But a Dartmouth College professor who has studied possible learning benefits from music said he needed to see details of the study before he would agree with the researchers' conclusions.

"You have to be careful that the test subjects do not know what the experiment is designed to show," said Jamshed Bharucha, a psychology professor and associate dean at Dartmouth.

"A teacher's high expectation of students can lead to those students realizing a higher expectation of themselves."

And the improved math scores may be related to enhanced self-esteem from the students' music learning, cautioned another psychology professor specializing in learning factors, Robert A. Bjork of UCLA.

 

 

 

"Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song." Psalms 95:2

"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music." Psalms 98:4