Anecdotal evidence has long suggested that young people who study and perform music outpace their peers academically. That perception now receives some hard-data underpinning in a study by Martin Guhn, Scott D. Emerson, and Peter Gouzouasis of the University of British Columbia, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.
In “A Population-Level Analysis of Associations Between School Music Participation and Academic Achievement,” the three researchers, examining the records of more than 110,000 secondary school students (grades 7-12) in British Columbia, found that students who studied music, especially performance of instrumental music, “were, on average, academically over one year ahead of the peers not engaged in school music,” scoring markedly higher in math, science and English.
“In light of this study (the largest of its kind to date), as well as supporting evidence suggesting music learning in childhood may foster competencies (e.g., executive functioning) that support academic achievement, educators may consider the potential positive influence of school music on students’ high school achievement,” the researchers write.
Teachers and parents of music students already know this – ask anyone with a child in the Suzuki program. The people who need to do the considering are school administrations deciding on curricula and teacher hiring, the local and state politicians allocating resources for the schools (and often second-guessing educators on what is and isn’t taught), and – to my mind, most importantly – the business, professional and political-donor communities who exert the strongest influence on educational policy.
When those who are directly concerned about developing a high-skill workforce absorb the findings of studies like this one, and come to understand that executive functioning, critical thinking, creative problem-solving and related skills are enhanced by the study of music and other art forms, that will dispel the currently widespread notion that arts education is an amenity or “frill.”
Here’s the study: