Petitto (2008) found that adults who had received some form of musical instruction during their childhood had a better fluency and understanding of a second language when compared against adults who did not received any musical instruction. Whilst this indicates that music does have a positive effect on second language acquisition, it is entirely correlational and therefore does not identify whether the musical instruction was the cause of this difference. Petitto also does not mention how big her sample size was, which makes these results difficult to generalise. Despite this, this study is supported by Lowe (1995). Lowe found that 6 -7 year old Canadian children achieved higher scores for French reading comprehension and oral grammar when they had also received integrated music instruction over a three-month period. Lowe’s study supports the notion that music training makes language acquisition easier, however one could also argue that since Canada’s national languages are both English and French, it is also possible that the improved scores were a consequence of living in an environment where the children are constantly exposed to the French language. One of the major issues with Lowe’s study is that it did not account for possible differences in the children’s reading abilities, this may have skewed the results as the children who have a harder time reading in general would have also had a difficult time trying to do the tests. This limitation could made up for with Moreno et Al (2011), who found that a vast majority of children who received musical instruction also improved their verbal intelligence as a result.
Both Lowe’s and Moreno et Al’s studies support the idea that undergoing musical training could make the process of acquiring a second language in young children much easier. There is also biological evidence to suggest why music instruction has a positive influence on second language acquisition, as researchers have found that parts of the brain associated with music are also associated with language (Science Daily, 2007). This would therefore suggest that when a child practices and improves their musical ability, they are also practicing and improving the part of the brain to do with language, which would make it easier to learn another language.
In regards to verbal abilities, Andrews (1997) found that when music was integrated into children’s education, whilst it did improve children’s general attitudes towards activities such as reading, it did not appear to have any effect on the actual reading ability of the children. This suggests that music does not have a direct effect on verbal abilities itself, but improves how children view linguistic tasks. If a child were to consider reading, writing and learning fun, then they are much more likely to continue to do so and end up improving their linguistic abilities as a result. This is significant as this could give educators the incentive to incorporate music programs alongside typical language subjects in order to help children learn better. Generally, it appears that music instruction does have a direct, positive influence on linguistic intelligence in regards to learning a second language, however the link between verbal abilities and music is not as clear.
Music and Mathematical Intelligence
Mathematical intelligence encompasses an individual’s numerical ability, such as understanding simple mathematical rules and concepts as well as being able to apply them appropriately. Numerical ability also includes skills such as pattern recognition and an understanding of proportion, ratio, fractions and subdivision, which are applicable to the different ‘notes’ that appear in music, e.g. a crotchet, also known as a quarter note, is only half as long as a minim, a half note.
Vaughn (2000) carried out a couple of meta-analyses, one of which looked at eight studies and found a slight positive correlation between high school students who had chosen to study music and high math test scores. Her other meta-analysis established a causal relationship between music training and mathematical ability, as it found music training would actively help to improve students’ numeracy based on results from six experimental studies. The major limitations of both of her studies were that the number of studies she had analysed were not very high, making generalisation difficult and she could not control the variables within each study, a typical pitfall of meta-analyses. In her second meta-analysis, she was also only able to observe a significant positive influence from two of the six studies. Vaughn herself came to the conclusion that the notion that music instruction could improve mathematical intelligence had not been tested accurately, so it’s very difficult to outright say that music instruction directly improves mathematical intelligence.
Southgate and Roscigno (2009) conducted a large longitudinal study that aimed to determine the relationship between music participation and mathematical ability in young children and adolescents. They used participants from both public and private schools and controlled for confounding variables such as gender, previous academic achievements and ethnicity. They found that, once they had controlled for previous academic achievement, adolescents had a moderate correlation between music and mathematical achievement and young children had a much stronger positive correlation between music participation and mathematical achievement. One of the limitations of this study was that the researchers were not able to look at how the duration of musical participation could have affected each of the children’s mathematical ability as well. Like Vaughn’s study, the results could only establish a relationship, but not the specific cause of the increase in mathematical achievement.
Both Vaughn’s and Southgate’s findings are supported by Harris (2007), who found that young children had significantly increased mathematical ability after receiving a music-enriched Montessori education, compared to children who had only received traditional Montessori education. It is unclear in Harris’ study if there was an equal amount of educational instruction for both groups of children, or if the music-enriched group had received more time to include the music instruction. If it were the case that the children with the music-enriched education had also received more instructional time, then these findings could have been a result of more instruction rather than the music training itself.
Further support comes from Courey et al’s study, which investigated how effective music instruction was in teaching young children the basic mathematical concept of fractions (2012). As mentioned before, it would make sense for musical training to improve children’s understanding of fractions, as music notation typically includes notes that are fractions of a beat. Music training did appear to help the children to develop a more significant understanding of fractions and proportional mathematics; however, there are quite a few limitations with this study. The first major issue is that the participants of this study were not randomly assigned into each of the experimental and control groups and sample size is very small and limited to only one school. All of the students also had English as a second language, which would make it more difficult to generalise these results. The last major limitation is that one of the researchers and a music teacher had been instructing the children. This could have affected the children’s achievement as both the researcher’s and music teacher’s teaching abilities could have been more effective than a typical 3rd grade teacher’s, so there’s no guarantee that if music instruction were to be implemented on a larger scale, that it would have results that were similar to this study.
Forgeard et al’s meta-analysis however suggests that music does not improve or even affect mathematical ability (2008). The purpose of the meta-analysis was to investigate how instrumental music lessons for children related to skills that were vaguely relevant to music, such as verbal and mathematical skills. They compared forty-one children who had received at least three years of instrumental music lessons with eighteen children who had not received any music instruction and found that whilst music instruction did appear to predict a positive association with verbal abilities, they did not find any positive predictive associations with mathematical abilities. Although this is significant, it is worth noting that the researchers did not test for the children’s general verbal and nonverbal IQ at the start of the study, so there was no baseline established. This makes it difficult to determine if the children who had received music instruction already had higher verbal and non-verbal abilities that the children of the control group.
Music and IQ
IQ is a measure of general intelligence and aptitude by way of a standardised intelligence test. Schellenberg et al (2006) observed that children aged 6- 11 who had received a longer duration of musical training had higher IQ scores when compared to children who had received no musical training. Whilst this observation was significant, it is purely correlational and cannot determine whether the higher IQ scores were a direct cause of the musical training the children had received. Another limitation of this study was that Schellenberg had used convenience sampling to gather his participants, who had all come from suburban, middle-class families. It could therefore be just as likely that the higher IQ scores were a result of a better education that is typically available to families of a higher socioeconomic status.
Schlaug (2005) carried out two studies to determine whether the structural and functional differences in the brains of adult musicians were a direct result of music training during childhood or of innate musical aptitude. He carried out a cross-sectional study that compared the IQ scores of children aged 9 – 11 who had had at least 4 years of musical instruction with non-musical children and found that the musical children generally had higher IQ scores. Whilst that study was purely correlational, he also carried out a longitudinal study over fourteen months. In the longitudinal study, Schlaug compared the IQ scores of fifty 5 – 7 year old children who received either piano or violin lessons against 25 children who did not receive any music lessons. He found that the experimental group of children had gained a small significant increase in their IQ scores compared to the children who did not have music lessons. Schlaug’s study suggests that learning how to play a musical instrument does in fact improve IQ in children. A problem with Schlaug’s study is that whilst it does suggest instrumental music training actively improves IQ, the sample size of the longitudinal study is far too small, making it difficult to generalise this findings on a wider scale. One could also argue that Schlaug is falling victim to researchers’ bias by choosing to determine these findings because of musical instruction, rather than any other variables such as more instruction from their teachers.
Giomi’s study (1999) however suggested that whilst there is an improvement in IQ score, the effect is not only small but temporary as well. Like Schlaug, Giomi also carried out a longitudinal study that aimed to investigate what the effects of musical instruction on young children were. She studied seventy-eight 9 – 12 year old children, approximately half boys and half girls, and randomly assigned half of the seventy-eight children to receive piano lessons after school every a week (experimental group) and the other half to receive no piano lessons. This study was carried out over three years and she gave IQ tests to each of the children before musical instruction began and at the end of each year of the study. At the beginning of the study, all of the children generally had identical test scores, so, like Schlaug, there did not appear to be any innate musical aptitude amongst any of the children. Giomi found that initially, at the end of the first and second year of piano instruction, the musical children had higher IQ test scores than the children of the control group, however, at the end of the third year, both groups had similar scores. Whilst this seems to suggest that IQ does not increase permanently because of music lessons, Giomi proposed that this could have been due to the children’s initial enthusiasm and dedication at the beginning of the study. At the beginning of the study, the children receiving the piano lessons would have been more enthusiastic to learning and practicing the piano, however after a couple of years, this enthusiasm would have given way to dedication. The fact that the highest IQ improvements were observed in children who had the highest attendance and practice rates compared to the others supports Giomi’s proposal, which further suggests that those who practiced the piano with a greater intensity and for a longer duration would receive a greater benefit from it. What is interesting about Giomi’s study is the suggestion that the duration and dedication to practicing for their music training is what had the most significant effect on children’s intelligence, however Giomi’s study does not address or identify which particular part of the music training had contributed to the slight increase in IQ. One could therefore argue that the increase in general IQ in the children had been a result of more interaction and attention from the music teacher rather than from any skills developed or gained from the music training itself. It is also worth noting that the experimental group used children between the ages of 9 – 11, typically when puberty begins. There has been research to suggest that children undergo “major cognitive changes” just before and during puberty (Albert, 1996), which could have had a significant effect on the general IQ increase observed in these children.
IQ Tests and Bidirectionality
As these studies were all looking at how music affects specific types of intelligence, they had to use the psychometric approach. The psychometric approach assumes that intelligence can quantified and measured in an observable and empirical manner. To do this, individuals are administered IQ tests, and a vast majority of the studies investigated in this essay have used the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children and/or the Stanford-Binet intelligence tests. These tests tend to be useful in making predictions about academic ability, however creating reliable IQ tests is incredibly difficult. They can often exhibit cultural bias by containing questions that are specific to the culture the test or the designer grew up in. For example, the question “Washington is to 1 as Jefferson is to ____” might seem easy to an American child, clearly the answer must be “3”, as Jefferson is the 3rd president of the US, however to a British child, the question would appear to be difficult as British education typically would not include American Presidential history. There is also the issue that most IQ tests are based on a normal distribution, i.e. the scores are in comparison to the rest of the population. This means that if an individual were to receive a low score, they would assume that they were less intelligent compared to the rest of the population and therefore end up subconsciously conforming to the idea, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. IQ tests also do not distinguish whether intelligence is a result of genetic predisposition or environmental factors. Most experts tend to agree that it is a mixture of both, due to the results of twin studies, however in the case of this investigation it has been very difficult to determine whether music had improved intelligence or whether children who already had a higher intelligence were more likely to take up music.
Schellenberg (2012) argued that if music did significantly improve intelligence, then arguably, all adult musicians, particularly those who had undertaken some form of music instruction for most of their life, must be geniuses. Typically, this is not the case in real life, suggesting that music training does not have a direct if any influence on intelligence.
Evidence to suggest that a higher general IQ leads individuals to take up and/or discover a talent in music is evident in case studies of some people who have Savant syndrome. Savant syndrome is the term for individuals, who are typically either highly autistic or have had some kind of central nervous injury, exhibiting prodigious skills in areas such as music, art and mathematics. Whilst it is suggestive, it is not conclusive evidence as the mechanism behind Savant syndrome is not fully understood.
Based on the evidence and studies investigated in this essay, I believe the extent to which music can improve and develop intelligence in children is quite varied. It seems unlikely that music is able to help children improve their overall mathematical intelligence, but it does appear to make understanding the concepts of ratio, fractions and proportional mathematics much easier. In regards to linguistic intelligence, music lessons do appear to help improve children’s ability to learn a second language. This is interesting to me, as I have learned to play six instruments and as well as seven languages. It is much more difficult to determine whether music also has a direct effect on general IQ in children, but the studies seem to suggest that there is a bidirectional relationship between music training and general IQ. That is to say, children who naturally have a higher intelligence may be more inclined to take up music lessons and those music lessons in turn help to reinforce their intelligence. These conclusions are significant as they could encourage educators to incorporate music as an additional aid in children’s education. At the very least, there is no incentive to complete cut out music programs from young children’s educations, as it does not have an adverse effect on their intelligence.
Further experimental research must be done to establish precisely if music does effect intelligence at all, if it is the other way round or even if the relationship between music and intelligence is mutual. Some of the questions raised by this topic include ‘Are there specific types of music instruction that have a greater effect on intelligence?’ For example, one could argue that pianists have a higher intelligence than violinists; as the sheet music for piano uses a treble clef and a bass clef, whereas only the treble clef is used in violin sheet music. Since pianists have to read two lines of music at the same time, some might say that they are more intelligent than other types of instrumental players. ‘Is there a specific genre of music that has a greater effect on second language acquisition?’ or ‘Which languages are easier to learn with musical instruction?’, for example one could argue that musical instruction makes learning how to speak Chinese languages easier, as Chinese languages rely heavily on specific tones and pitches in order to convey meaning.
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