The nonmusical benefits of music instruction
Eugenia Costa-Giomi, McGill University
The contribution of music instruction to the education and development of children has received considerable attention in recent years. The surge of interest on the benefits of music has been triggered by research findings on the effects of music listening and music instruction on cognitive abilities. While results regarding the short-term effects of music listening on spatial abilities are contradictory, those regarding the effects of music instruction on the development of spatial skills are more consistent. It was found that children who received 6- to 24-months of music instruction scored significantly higher in certain spatial tests than those not engaged in formal musical training. These effects, however, may be only temporary (Costa-Giomi, 1999; Persellin, 2000), relatively small (Costa-Giomi, 1999), and restricted to very specific spatial tasks (Rauscher et al, 1994).
Other benefits of music instruction that have been investigated are those related to academic achievement. It has been suggested that exposure to music even in relatively passive situations such as those involving listening to background music improve academic achievement (e.g., Schreiber, 1988). Students who participate in music instruction or live in an enriched musical environment often obtain higher academic scores than do nonparticipants (Harding, 1990; Hurwitz et al., 1975; Linch, 1994). However, not all studies found a significant relationship between music participation and academic achievement (Legette, 1994; Kooyman, 1989). It could be argued that in the long run, such relationship might be influenced by a process of selection through which high-academic achievers engage themselves and persist in music instruction and lower-academic achievers do not pursue or discontinue this type of instruction.
Although music has been used as an effective therapeutic treatment with groups characterized by low self-esteem, there are conflicting research findings regarding the contribution of music participation to the development of self-esteem in normal children (Legette, 1994; Linch, 1994; Wood, 1973). Research in which music instruction was actually provided as a treatment indicated that, in general, music participation has very limited effects on subjects' self-concept (Lomen,1970; Wamhopff, 1972) or no effect at all (Legette, 1994; Michel, 1971; Michel & Farrell, 1973).
Those who provide children with music lessons report that there are many other benefits associated with music instruction. Duke, Flowers, and Wolf (1997) found that parents and piano teachers believe that piano instruction improves certain personal characteristics of children such as discipline, concentration, ability to relax, confidence, responsibility, and self-concept and adds pleasure to students' lives. The scarce research on the personality traits of pianist (Kemp, 1996) makes it impossible to assess whether these beliefs can be supported by empirical evidence.
What it is known, is that children who are engaged in piano instruction come from a rather privileged environment, fact that might explain the reported advantage that these children have in regards to academic achievement, self-esteem, and personality traits. The results of a national survey conducted in the United States ( Duke, et al., 1997) indicated that most piano students are white Caucasian, female, from upper-middle income, have well-educated parents, live in suburban homes with both parents, and have high academic expectations. In addition to demographic differences, it is possible that the students who participate in music instruction for an extensive period of time have different interests or personal characteristics than do students who never take or discontinue music lessons. The present study was conducted with children who did not seek to participate in formal music instruction and who came from a less privileged environment than the one described by Duke at al. Its purpose was to investigate the effects of three years of piano study on their cognitive development, academic achievement, and self-esteem. A more detailed description of the study's sample, methodology, and results regarding the cognitive benefits of piano instruction can be found in Costa-Giomi (1999).
One hundred and seventeen 4th-grade children (58 girls and 59 boys) who had never participated in formal music instruction, did not have a piano at home, and whose family income was below $40,000 Cdn (approximately $27,000US) per annum participated in the study. Thirty percent of the children lived in single-parent families and 25% had unemployed parents whose welfare subsidies were less than $20,000. Sixty-seven children were assigned to the experimental group and 50 children to the control group.
Each child in the experimental group received, at no cost to the families, three-years of individual piano lessons and an acoustic piano. The lessons, which were taught at the children's schools, were 30 minutes long during the first two years and 45 minutes during the third year. Nine experienced teachers followed a traditional piano curriculum characteristic of Canadian conservatories.
Prior to the treatment, children in both the control and experimental groups were administered five standardized tests with adequate reliability levels for the age of the sample: Level E of the Developing Cognitive Abilities Test (DCAT), the tonal and rhythmic audiation subtests of the Musical Aptitude Profile, the fine motor subtests of the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency, the language and mathematics subtests of the level 14 of the Canadian Achievement Test 2 (CAT2), and the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventories (long form). At the end of the first, second, and third year of instruction, children took the appropriate level of the DCAT (i.e., E, F, and G levels respectively), and the self-esteem test. At the end of the second and third year of piano instruction, children also took the language and math subtests of the CAT2, levels 15 and 16 respectively. Tests were administered to mixed groups of experimental and control subjects in the same order in all schools. I studied children's academic performance in school through the analysis of their school report cards from third grade (one year prior to the start of piano instruction) to sixth grade and focused on the effects of piano instruction on four subjects: music, math, English, and French. The piano teachers completed weekly progress reports about children's attendance to the lessons and their practice routine throughout the three years of instruction.
In order to determine the effects of piano instruction on cognitive abilities, self-esteem, and academic achievement, I compared the experimental and control groups throughout the duration of the project through ANOVAs with repeated measures followed by Scheffe post hoc comparisons. I conducted these analyses with a number of additional independent variables: sex, income (<$20,000, $20,000 - $30,000 Cdn., or $30,000 - $40,000 Cdn.), family structure (single- or two-parent family), and parental employment (0, 1, or 2 employed parents). I also compared the children who dropped out of the piano lessons during the duration of the study with those who never participated in formal music instruction and who participated in the piano lessons for three years.
Results showed that the experimental group's spatial scores were significantly higher than those of the control group after one and two years of instruction and that the groups' spatial scores did not differ prior to the treatment or at the end of the intervention. After two years of treatment, also the general cognitive ability scores of the experimental group were significantly higher than those of the control group. No differences in quantitative and verbal abilities between the control and experimental groups could be established throughout the duration of the project. Gender, income, family structure, and parental employment did not interact with the treatment in a significant way. No differences between the drop-out and control groups or between the drop-out and experimental groups could be established for any of the subtest scores or the total scores of the DCTA.
I conducted multiple regression analyses to explore the effects of specific components of the treatment on the cognitive development of children in the experimental group. These components were dependent upon the subjects motivation to learn the piano, variable which could have affected the relationship between music and cognitive development. Motivation to learn the piano, as measured by lessons missed and average practice time per week, explained 21% of the variance in spatial abilities and 22% of the variance in total cognitive abilities after three years of piano instruction.
The results of the analyses showed that the total self-esteem scores of the experimental group increased significantly from 1994 to 1997 but those of the control group did not. It was noticed that the School self-esteem scores of the experimental group tended to increase throughout the three years while those of the control group tended to decrease. The analyses which included gender, income, family structure, and parental employment as additional variables yielded similar results to the ones reported earlier and showed no interactions between piano instruction and these variables. Further analyses indicated that the total self-esteem scores of children who completed the three years of instruction improved significantly, while those of the dropout and control groups did not.
The results of the analyses did not show any significant effect of piano instruction on children's total scores in the language and math subtests of the academic achievement test. The analyses of partial scores in each of the two math subtests and two language subtests revealed no significant difference between the control and experimental groups. It was noticed that the math computation scores of the experimental group tended to be higher than those of the control group especially after two years of instruction. The analyses which included of gender, income, family structure, and parental employment as additional variables yielded similar results to the ones reported earlier. The analysis of math computation scores which included income as an independent variable showed a significant interaction between Year and Group which was not found in the previous analysis. There was a more pronounced improvement in the experimental group's math computation scores than those of the control group.
When re-analyzing the data to study differences in academic achievement among the children who completed the three years of piano lessons and those who dropped out of or never participated in piano instruction, it was found that the experimental group obtained higher total language scores than the control group after two years of instruction.
The analyses of data from the school report cards showed that piano instruction affected children's school music marks. The experimental group obtained significantly higher music marks than the control group after two years of instruction. It was also found that the marks of the control group varied significantly throughout the three years of the project while those of the experimental group did not.
Although the analysis of math marks also showed a significant effect of piano instruction on school math performance, post-hoc analyses did not reveal any differences between the control and experimental groups. Similarly, no effects of piano instruction on children's school performance in language subjects were found even when including sex, income, family structure, and parental employment as additional independent variables into the analyses. The consideration of these variables did not modify the results presented regarding children's math and music marks either. The analyses of school marks of children who completed, did not complete, or never participated in the three years of piano instruction, yielded similar results to the ones reported earlier. The dropout group's marks did not differ from either the control's or the experimental group' marks.
The analysis of data gathered through regular interviews with the parents, teachers, and students showed a few interesting trends. Almost half of the parents of children in the experimental group reported that during the three years of the project they provided their other children with music lessons. With the exception of one child in the control group, children who expressed interest in pursuing music careers were all in the experimental group. More children in the experimental group than in the control group showed interest in playing musical instruments at the end of the project. Parents and children in the experimental group attended more concerts and recitals than those in the control group throughout the three years of the project. No differences in personal traits, as rated by the parents, between the control and experimental groups could be established either before or after the treatment.
The results of the study suggest that one of the benefits associated with piano instruction is the development of children's self-esteem. The total self-esteem scores of the experimental group showed a more pronounced (and statistically significant) improvement than those of the control group during the three years of instruction regardless of family income, sex, family structure, and parental employment. It is important to mention that the treatment of this project involved not only the piano lessons but also many other special events such as owning a piano, playing in recitals, and getting individual attention from a caring teacher. Although traditional piano instruction involves all these elements and, as such, contributes to the development of self-esteem in children, future research might try to establish the individual contribution of each these elements.
As discussed elsewhere (Costa-Giomi, 1999), the results of the study corroborate that piano instruction produces temporary improvements of general and spatial cognitive abilities. Children receiving piano lessons obtained significantly higher general and spatial cognitive scores than those not participating in formal music instruction after one and two years of treatment. However, no differences between the groups could be established after the third year of instruction. Additional findings suggest that motivation to study piano plays an important role in the relationship between music instruction and cognitive development. Apparently, children who apply themselves benefit to a larger extent than do those who do not practice or miss lessons.
The results of the study did not show any significant contribution of piano instruction to children's academic achievement in language and math as measured by standardized tests. I noticed, however, that children receiving the piano lessons tended to obtain higher math computation scores than those not participating in formal music instruction after two years of treatment and that those who completed three years of piano instruction obtained higher language scores than those who discontinued the lessons.
The effects of piano instruction on children's academic achievement in school, as measured by school report cards, were similar to the ones measured through standardized tests. No benefits of piano instruction were evident from the analyses of school marks in language subjects and math. Although the math marks of the children receiving and not receiving the lessons changed significantly from third-grade to sixth-grade, the results did no indicate any clear overall gain or loss for any of the groups. The lack of other effects of piano lessons on school performance are in fact positive signs that this type of instruction does not necessarily add excessive strain on children's academic responsibilities. Children in the experimental group were able to meet the academics demands of school on top of those associated with the study of piano.
Participation in piano instruction had other interesting effects on children and their families. Families whose children were taking lessons showed an increased interest in music participation than those whose children were not engaged in formal music instruction. The siblings of almost half of the children who were offered the piano lessons through this project subsequently started formal music instruction at their parents' initiative and families with children involved in the piano lessons attended more concert than those with children in the control group. Participation in music instruction actually opened othercareer options for the children in the experimental group, options not even considered by those with no formal music instruction experience.
In summary, the results of the study show that piano instruction benefits children in various ways but that the scope of these benefits may be more limited than previously suggested.
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