New Research Suggests That Those Who Study Music Excel In Science

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Is science creative or is it rigid, black and white? The answer to that question varies based on whom you ask, and the individual’s exposure to science. One of the greatest minds in mathematics, Henri Poincare, said “It is with logic that we prove, but with intuition that we discover.” highlighting the inherent  element of imagination and creativity necessary for discovery, thus alluding to the fact that science is an art form. However, science has long been separated from art through this notion that it is very black and white. Of course just like a language, science is rules based, but just like with language we express, in the same way we express through science, however, instead of writing essays or novels, in science our expression of rules yields tangible objects like the computer, the airplane, an iPhone and a plethora of inventions that have made our world what it is today. In fact, a testament to the fact that science is an art form can be seen in music. It has long been thought that music and science are related. This is apparent in that if one studies the music of Bach or Beethoven a mathematical and symmetrical nature of the music is evident. It is often a fleeing notion in our society that many of exceptionally talented people both excel in the sciences and music, but what is this connection between science and music?

In the past I have written about the connection between music and success. A recently published piece of research has tried to understand the interplay between music and academic performance, including that in math and science. A study published in the Journal Of Educational Psychology study found that students who engaged in music activities did better in Math, Science and English classes. Carried out in Canada, the study looked at the performance of 112, 916 public high school students and studied the correlation between musical engagement and test scores, specifically looking at two types of music engagement — vocal and instrumental music engagement. Researchers found that both vocal and instrumental music provided a measurable difference in the students exam scores across the three subjects looked at in the study — English, Math and Science. However, in the instrumental music group were significant between the students who did not engage in the activity to those who were highly engaged. This discrepancy was the most highlighted in the Math and Science section, where the median exam scores differed by 6 points in both math and science.  The findings are significant. As the authors indicate “the group differences observed in our study were greater than average annual gains in academic achievement during high school. In other words, students highly engaged in music were, on average, academically over 1 year ahead of the peers not engaged in school music.” It is incredible that by studying music students were able to advance much faster than their peers. The question comes as to why?

Old music scores form part of the decoration at the new Pleyel Pianos showroom in Paris, France, on Monday, Oct. 8, 2007. Pleyel Pianos, founded in Paris by Austrian composer Ignaz Pleyel, struggled through two world wars, the emergence of electronic music and the rise of Japanese pianos. The company will open a 250-square-meter (2,690-square-foot) showroom with a red piano suspended from the ceiling at Paris’s historic Pleyel concert hall near the Arc de Triomphe on October 11. Photographer: Alastair Miller/Bloomberg News

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Although the effects on studying music and their beneficial result on academic performance are most likely multifactorial, the researchers attribute this to enhancing of broad competencies, executive function as well as working memory, self-regulation and information processing. It is also important to note that instrumental music requires a considerable time commitment, thus in spending this time engaged in musical study, students develop different functions which aid them in their academic pursuits and hone those over time. This is supported by other research cited in the paper. Additionally, other researchers also cited in the paper suggest that engagement in music can build a positive self-image and aid in developing effective learning routines, as well as increase motivation. These findings make perfect sense because learning to play an instrument is not an over night success, it is rather a slow and deliberate process which takes years to master. It is likely that the habits students have acquire from learning to master an instrument spill over to other areas of life and thus allow them excel.

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