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What's new in pedagogy research?

Does studying and playing music make you smarter for the rest of your life? Does it make you smarter in a particular subject, like math? Those of us who are a bit challenged in the IQ department alternately hope it's so and fear it's not! A new study from Toronto has investigated this continuing question, and the results are interesting. (1)

This study consisted of two parts. The main goal of the first part was to test if the duration of children's music lessons was positively associated with IQ. The sample population was made up of 147 children who were between ages 6 and 11, who had a varied amount of private and group music lessons in their background. Detailed information indicated that the group was very diverse culturally, and the parents' education and income also varied widely. Data were collected for three main areas:

* Each child took the WISC-III, which is a widely accepted standardized test of childhood intelligence.

* Each child filled out the K-TEA, a standardized test for academic achievement, and the parents provided copies of the child's school report cards.

* Each parent completed the BASC, which contained 138 items describing their child's social adjustment.

The resulting scores were compared statistically, and the results indicated that the duration of music lessons did have a small but positive association with measures of intelligence. They influenced grades in school, but did not particularly influence any specific area such as math. Previous studies have not always taken into account the fact that children who take music lessons often come from well-educated parents with high IQs. Since IQ is strongly heredity, the parents' IQs, education and resulting social status could have been confounding variables in previous studies. In this study, however, a positive association to intelligence and academic achievement remained across the variables of income, parents' education and involvement in nonmusical out-off school activities.

The second part of the study explored whether these positive associations lasted after music lessons had ended. College freshmen were surveyed, and in this sample 56 percent had taken lessons for an average of 7.8 years, and had played music regularly for an average of 9.4 years, with the lessons generally being discontinued four years previously. As in the first part, the students were very diverse culturally, and their parents had a broad range of educational backgrounds and incomes. Each student was given an age-appropriate test of intelligence (WAIS-III), and each self-reported on their high school GPA for academic achievement. The statistical results of these comparisons indicated:
 Taking music lessons in childhood
 was a significant predictor of IQ
 in young adulthood and of academic
 ability in high school.., and
 these associations remained significant
 after holding constant individual
 differences in family
 income, parents' education, and
 gender. (2)

In the closing summary of the study, E. Glenn Schellenberg discusses the overall findings and their implications:
 The present study uncovered a
 "dose-response" association, with
 longer duration of musical training
 predictive of better intellectual
 functioning. The findings also confirmed
 that real-world associations
 between music lessons and intelligence
 cannot be attributed solely to
 potential confounding variables
 such as parents' education or family
 income. Nevertheless, the
 observed associations could still be
 an artifact of a third variable (or
 set of variables) that was not measured
 in the present study


I would have to admit that I have always doubted these "music makes you smarter" studies, and even though this was a valid looking investigation, I am still not totally convinced. In studies like these, one always has to ask the question, "Did the results reflect causality or simply correlation?" In other words, did one (music lessons) cause the other (higher intelligence and academic achievement), or did both just happen to occur in the same sample of subjects? Schellenberg also asks this question when he writes:
 It is also possible that high-IQ
 children enjoy music lessons more
 than their lower-IQ counterparts
 because they find it easier to read
 musical notation, to identify patterns
 in musical stimuli..., and so
 on. In other words, high-IQ children
 may have more mental capacity
 to take music lessons as well as
 go to school because both activities
 are cognitively demanding (4)

I would still have to say that the "bottom line" for me is that music lessons enrich a child's life. They open up a world of beauty and self-expression, and they teach disciplined, sequential learning habits.


(1.) Schellenberg, E. Glenn. "Long-Term Positive Associations Between Music Lessons and IQ." Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, No. 2 (2006): 457-468.

(2.) Ibid., 464.

(3.) Ibid., 464.

(4.) Ibid., 465.

Rebecca Grooms Johnson, NCTM, is the director of keyboard pedagogy at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. She is an experienced independent piano teacher and a past president of the Ohio MTA. Johnson holds a Ph. D. degree in piano pedagogy.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:music education
Author:Johnson, Rebecca
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Previous Article:Polyphony.
Next Article:Pre-rehearsal preparation: are your student pianists setting the stage for an effective collaborative rehearsal?

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