Children do better in math when music is added to their lessons, according to a new study in publication Educational Studies.
Researchers believe that music can make math more enjoyable, keep students engaged and help ease fear or anxiety about the subject.
They may even become more motivated, leading students to appreciate math more.
Techniques for integrating music into math lessons range from clapping to pieces with different rhythms when learning numbers and fractions, to using math to design musical instruments.
The researchers studied academic databases for research on the topic published between 1975 and 2022.
They then combined the results of 55 studies from around the world, involving almost 78,000 young people from kindergarten pupils to college students.
Three types of music intervention were included.
The first was standardized music interventions such as typical music lessons in which children sing, listen to, and compose music.
The next was instrumental musical interventions, which were lessons where children learned how to play instruments, either individually or as part of a band.
The final was music-math integrated interventions, where music was integrated into math lessons.
Students took math tests before and after taking part in the intervention and the change in their scores was compared with those who didn’t take part in an intervention.
The use of music, whether in separate lessons or as part of math classes, caused a greater improvement in math over time.
The integrated lessons had the biggest effect, with around 73 percent of students who had integrated lessons doing significantly better than children who didn’t have any type of musical intervention.
Also, 69 percent of students who learned how to play instruments and 58 percent of students who had normal music lessons improved more than pupils with no musical intervention.
The results also revealed that music helps more with learning arithmetic than other types of math and has a bigger impact on younger pupils and those learning more basic mathematical concepts.
The author points out that math and music have much in common, such as the use of symbols and symmetry. Both subjects also require abstract thought and quantitative reasoning.
Arithmetic may lend itself particularly well to being taught through music because core concepts, such as fractions and ratios, are also fundamental to music.
Musical notes of different lengths can be represented as fractions and added together to create several bars of music.
Integrated lessons may be especially effective because they allow pupils to build connections between the maths and music and provide extra opportunities to explore, interpret and understand math.
If lessons are more enjoyable than traditional maths lessons, any anxiety students feel about math may be eased.
However, there were limitations to the study.
There was a relatively small number of studies available for inclusion. This meant it wasn’t possible to look at the effect of factors such as gender, socio-economic status and length of musical instruction on the results.
Dr. Ayça Akın, from the department of software engineering at Antalya Belek University, Turkey, said: “While musical instruction overall has a small to moderate effect on achievement in maths, integrated lessons have a large impact.”
She added: “Encouraging mathematics and music teachers to plan lessons together could help ease students’ anxiety about mathematics, while also boosting achievement.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Alberto Arellano and Jessi Rexroad Shull
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