Taking piano lessons and playing a computer math game helped second-graders more readily grasp math problems in fractions and proportions that are normally taught in sixth grade, a study says.
Pupils who trained on the piano keyboard and played with a specially designed computer math game during the four-month study scored 27% higher on math problems than did a control group that took English classes and played the same game.
The students with piano and math software training also scored more than 100% higher than a group that received neither the piano lessons nor the computer game.
The study, appearing in the March issue of the journalNeurological Research, involved 135 students. It’s the latest in a series of studies suggesting that math skills improve with exposure to music training.
The researchers say that learning the piano and how to read music helps children understand note values, such as an eighth note being half of a quarter note.
”Piano instruction is thought to enhance the brain’s ‘hard-wiring’ for spatial-temporal reasoning, or the ability to visualize ratios, fractions, proportions and thinking in space and time,” says Gordon Shaw, professor emeritus of physics at the University of California-Irvine, who led the three-member research team.
The computer game, called Spatial-Temporal Animation Reasoning (STAR), used geometric patterns and math puzzles to exercise skills enhanced by piano practice.
The proportional math test contained ratios and fractions usually introduced in sixth grade but which generally are difficult to teach using traditional methods, educators say.
In 1997, the graduate school of education and information studies at UCLA found that eighth- and 10th-graders with high arts exposure performed better academically than students with low exposure and were less likely to drop out of school.
”There’s always been a battle over music, whether it is necessary or as important as math, English and science,” says Pat Page, executive director of the American Music Conference, a national group that promotes music education. ”Dr. Shaw’s work has shown a considerable link between music and intelligence.”
Jerry Aldridge, president of the U.S. National Committee of the World Organization for Early Childhood Education, which operates in 51 countries, praises the study but says more research is needed to confirm the findings.
”It spurred our interest,” Aldridge says, noting that students’ math skills improved re- gardless of income or socioeconomic background. ”That means if we take this seriously, we’re going to have to provide money for pianos and computers for poor children where they aren’t generally available.”