Math and Music: Are They Connected?
I wrote a story this week about why advocates say we should fund music education during an economic downturn. I was interested in the connections between music and math, and I stumbled upon some heated debates among researchers about whether academic achievement can be enhanced through music training.
On one side, I talked to Frances Rauscher, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, who helped popularize the term "Mozart effect" by showing that adults performed better on some parts of an IQ test after listening to classical music.
In one of her more recent studies, she found that math test scores for preschool-age students rose for those who received instruction in piano, rhythm or singing. The students who studied rhythm had the biggest gains, and she said she was not surprised. Rhythm is, after all, "the subdivision of a beat," she said. It's about ratios and proportions, the relationship between a part and a whole -- all material from math classes.
One the other side, Wayne D. Parker, director of research and evaluation at Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, has researched music instruction and math performance and found a negligible connection. He said he's not compelled by arguments that people should invest in music for the sake of math or reading. "You don't hear math people saying you should study calculus because it will help you be better at the violin," he said.
Since Monday, I have received some heartfelt responses from readers who think, from personal experience or from their own studies, that the connection between music and math is clear.
One Fairfax dad wrote me about his two sons, who are now in their 20's.
They first started taking private violin lessons when they were 6 and 5 years old respectively. I remember my boys starting with cardboard violins before working up to the smallest type. They took private lessons through H.S. and were both members of the Virginia Youth Symphony as well as concert masters in middle school orchestras.... Throughout school both boys excelled in math and in addition to both going to TJ, the older one scored 780 on the math SAT and the younger one got a perfect 800 (back when there were only 2 parts).
My older boy graduated in the top 3% of his class from UVA with a 3.97 GPA majoring in economics in 3 years and the younger one will graduate in May, again in 3 years with a GPA of 3.75.
Violin has given them discipline, confidence and self esteem to perform well under adverse conditions... I’m sure there are many reasons for my boy’s intelligence, but the way I see it the violin has contributed the most.
What do you think about the connections between music and math? How does one help the other? Or is this all overblown?
Michael Alison Chandler
November 18, 2008; 1:26 PM ET
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