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Experiment Shows Connection Between Music Instruction & Perceptual Speed

Submitted by Artie Almeida, Orlando, Florida

Idea posted 2002-09-04

For my doctoral dissertation, I conducted an experimental study that looked at connections between music instruction and perceptual speed. Perceptual speed is the speed at which a student decodes, or identifies items. It is a foundation skill in both reading and mathematics. Students must be able to quickly decode letters and words to move on to the reading comprehension level, and in math, children must recognize and decode the symbols necessary for calculations.

I took two third grade classes and gave them a perceptual speed, picture-matching pretest. I then gave 8 weeks (24 lessons) of extra music instruction to the experimental group. The lessons used recorder and were focused on reading notation. The control group just got its regular weekly music classes, and was not even aware that the other group was getting something extra.

At the end of the 8 weeks, I gave another perceptual speed test to both groups, and my experimental group did much better than the control group, which had initially scored higher! My little exp. class had been much lower on the pretest, but wound up much higher on the post test. These results are interesting for a number of reasons. Gender, race, musical aptitude, reading achievement, and math achievement did not account for the statistical significance. The only variable (of those in my study) that could have accounted for the increase was the extra music instruction. In actuality, my experimental group started lower in all of the variables, especially reading achievement.

Every single student in the experimental group increased in their post test score. Six children in the control group decreased, and four remained the same. Not only that, but one of the most exciting findings was that the highest increase was achieved by the lowest academically achieving students. This information bodes well for using music in a remedial situation, and making sure that all at-risk students have a solid music education experience.

Well, we all know that music should not exist to enhance other subjects, and no child takes our music classes to get better in reading or math. However, if what we are doing impacts other areas in a positive way, I want administrators and teachers in other subjects to be aware of that. I want them to consider my subject as "academic" as much as theirs.

I also think it is important to stress that this study focused on music NOTATION instruction. Decoding a new symbol system is one of the highest cognitive functions, and it makes sense that the skills gained during this process help other decoding functions. It's important for children to sing, listen, move to music, etc. - but it is also crucial that we get to the reading.

This study really excited me, and I was very glad that I got to conduct the research with my own students at my own school. There were also many other benefits. The children were so motivated when they got that shot of confidence in being able to do something challenging. They hated to see the study end, and I did too.

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