Another research article, published this time in Sociological Perspectives, reports a positive correlation between participation in music classes and performance on standardized math tests. The effect, however, seems to be isolated primarily to schools that serve more socially privileged students.
Students in schools serving more students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals tend to take fewer music and art classes compared to their peers in more affluent communities. In addition, schools in high-poverty areas may be under-resourced when it comes to music and art courses.
“It’d be reasonable to expect that at under-resourced schools, the quality of the music program would differentiate any potential connection to other subjects,” said Daniel Mackin Freeman of Portland State University, the study’s lead author. “For programs as resource-intensive as something like band, under-resourced schools are less likely even to have working instruments, let alone an instructor who can teach students to read music in a way that they can make connections to arithmetic.”
No one is a bigger fan of music classes than I am. But we don’t teach music or math in a vacuum. So many factors butt into the lives of students at affluent and high-poverty schools alike that isolating the effects of music classes on math scores seems to be a mathematical impossibility.
“Creating an environment where students have access to a well-rounded curriculum might indirectly affect math achievement,” Mackin Freeman said. “That could be something as simple as, they’re willing to go to class because they have band or painting class to look forward to.”
That external factor, identified by the researcher himself, brings about a positive correlation between good music classes and high math scores. We will soon all realize that the fine arts and athletics are the main reason the vast majority of kids in the middle of the academic spectrum—which includes a whole lot of kids—even enjoy going to school despite having to sit in math, science, and history classes.
The point of a “well-rounded curriculum,” as Mr Mackin Freeman calls it, is not necessarily that music is similar to algebra or something, but that if kids enjoy going to school because of at least a few out of the seven or eight classes they sit in every day, they’ll have a more relaxing time in the purely academic courses.
Some kids will become scientists, mathematicians, historians, and so forth. But most won’t. The varied approach to studies, including physical education and athletics, is paramount for most students.