A recent review of almost five decades of research has revealed that incorporating music into math lessons can significantly enhance children's mathematical abilities. The integration of music has been found to make the learning experience more enjoyable, improve motivation, and alleviate math-related anxiety. This groundbreaking study, published in Educational Studies, sheds light on the positive impact of music on mathematics and suggests that students can develop a deeper appreciation for arithmetic through the harmonious combination of these disciplines.
Various techniques have been employed to merge music with math lessons, ranging from rhythmic clapping while learning numbers and fractions to designing musical instruments using mathematical concepts. Prior research has already indicated a correlation between musical aptitude and mathematical proficiency, but the question of whether teaching music directly enhances mathematical skills has remained unanswered.
To address this gap, Dr. Ayca Akin, a Turkish researcher from the Department of Software Engineering at Antalya Belek University, conducted an extensive review of academic databases, encompassing studies published between 1975 and 2022. Combining the results of 55 studies involving nearly 78,000 students, ranging from kindergarten pupils to university students worldwide, Dr. Akin arrived at a definitive answer.
The meta-analysis incorporated three types of musical interventions: standard music lessons involving singing, listening to, and composing music; instrumental musical interventions where children learn to play instruments individually or as part of a band; and music-maths integrated interventions, where music is seamlessly integrated into math lessons. Students who participated in these interventions took math tests before and after the program, and their score improvements were compared to those of students who did not receive any musical intervention.
The results unequivocally demonstrated that the use of music, whether as separate lessons or integrated into math classes, led to greater improvement in mathematical proficiency over time. Integrated lessons exhibited the most substantial impact, with approximately 73 percent of students who received such lessons showing significant progress compared to those without any musical intervention. Furthermore, 69 percent of students who learned to play instruments and 58 percent of students in standard music lessons also demonstrated notable improvement.
Additionally, the findings revealed that music proved particularly effective in enhancing arithmetic skills compared to other areas of mathematics. It also had a more profound influence on younger students and those learning foundational mathematical concepts. Dr. Akin, who conducted the research while affiliated with Turkey's National Ministry of Education and Antalya Belek University, highlighted the commonalities between math and music, such as the use of symbols and symmetry. Both subjects require abstract thinking and quantitative reasoning.
Mathematics lends itself well to being taught through music due to the shared fundamental concepts, such as fractions and ratios, which are integral to both disciplines. For instance, musical notes of varying lengths can be represented as fractions and combined to create musical bars. Integrated lessons prove especially effective as they allow students to establish connections between math and music, providing additional opportunities to explore, interpret, and comprehend mathematical concepts.
Moreover, if these integrated lessons are more enjoyable than traditional math classes, they have the potential to alleviate students' anxiety surrounding mathematics. By embracing the collaborative planning of lessons between mathematics and music teachers, educational institutions can create an environment that eases students' apprehensions and simultaneously enhances their academic achievements.
Although the study acknowledges limitations due to the relatively small number of available studies, preventing an in-depth analysis of factors such as gender, socio-economic status, and duration of musical instruction, Dr. Akin, who is now based at Antalya Belek University, concludes that while musical instruction as a whole has a modest to moderate effect on mathematical achievement, integrated lessons exhibit a significant impact.
In summary, the study highlights the powerful connection between math and music and advocates for the integration of these subjects in educational curricula. By embracing this interdisciplinary approach, educators can unlock the potential for greater mathematical success while providing students with a more enjoyable and well-rounded learning experience.