Learning music as an element of improving mathematical skills

Taking as a starting point the recognised relationship between music and mathematics, the aim of this research was to study the influence of musical learning upon mathematical performance, with consideration given to other predictors such as socioeconomic status, intelligence and various cognitive-motivational variables (motivation, self-efficacy expectations and causal attributions).
The first part of the work outlines the theoretical bases underpinning the research. It begins by looking at the relationship between music and mathematics from the perspectives of historical musicology, musical theory and analysis, acoustics and musical composition, focusing on mechanisms that generate connections between musical elements and concepts, on the one hand, and mathematical themes and topics on the other hand. It also describes the benefits of musical exposure for cognitive and intellectual development (particularly spatial reasoning, mathematical performance and intelligence) and the impact of music lessons on academic performance in various disciplines, particularly mathematics; the association between duration of musical learning and improved mathematical abilities is emphasised. Beyond the effect of musical learning, we further searched for an explanation for improved academic performance based on the performance enhancement variables such as socioeconomic status and intelligence. Following this approach, we explored the effects of variables, outside of the musical context, that affect academic performance, focusing on the socioeconomic status, intelligence and cognitive-motivational dimensions (motivation, self-efficacy expectations and causal attributions), highlighting the predictive power of intelligence, followed by socioeconomic status and motivation. Finally, the attention turns to the interaction between music and the brain, focusing on structural and functional neuroplasticity, the effects of musical learning and performance, musical cognition and non-musical domains, and genetic factors. The possibility of there existing connections between musical cognition and non-musical capacities (such as spatial and mathematical skills) is emphasised.
The second part of the study describes research carried out in schools with 112 7th year pupils from 12 different educational establishments. Nine of these schools offered specialized music education, while the other three provided a normal education, and they were all located in the urban areas of Braga, Coimbra and Lisbon. The study was longitudinal in nature and covered three academic years (from the 7th to the 9th grades). Firstly, the aims, research hypotheses, nature of the sample, evaluation tools and methods of empirical validation are described, and then the results are presented. These not only validated the hypothesis that pupils undergoing formal musical learning had a higher level of mathematical performance than pupils from other schools (H1), but also provided evidence that the number of years of musical learning contributed to an increase in mathematical performance (H3). Students learning keyboard instruments also revealed a higher level of mathematical performance than their peers learning other instruments. As regards the predictive power of specialized music education versus regular education, it was found that musical training was a better predictor of mathematical performance. Of the variables considered, socioeconomic level, motivation, self-efficacy expectations and intelligence also contributed to the increase in mathematical performance, although musical learning only lost its predictive power in the presence of intelligence. However, after statistical controls of intelligence, the predictive power of musical learning was maintained (H2). The results also showed which branches of mathematics appeared to benefit the most from musical learning (certain topics of Geometry) (H4), and suggested that it was possible to predict mathematical performance from the students’ spatial reasoning (H5).
Finally, mention is made of the limitations of the study and the implications that these results could have in the field of musical education in Portugal. Suggestions are also made as to possible directions for future research.

Year 2013
Type Thesis
Institution Universidade de Aveiro
Degree PhD
Supervisor(s) Carlos Fernandes da Silva, Daniela Coimbra
Language Português
Field Psychology of Music