David Fonda - Research Report for MUS 600 – Spring 2012 – Dr. Wang


            As an elementary school music educator, I am very frequently looking for ways to connect music across the curriculum to other areas of content.  These connections have several positive outcomes. The first one is the most important because it directly relates to students. Connecting music to other content areas aids in strengthening the understanding of those concepts by students. It can also be used to show your fellow educators and administration the value of what is being offered in the music classroom. Some of these connections to music are easier than others. It seems to me, the easiest cross-curricular connection to music is with mathematics.

            Mathematics and music connect on several different levels. By design, both subjects are very structured. The time signature in music functions like a mathematical formula to describe the expected contents of each measure of the piece of music. The concept of intervals was discovered by Pythagoras, a brilliant mathematician. The discovery of tuning with regards to the intervals of the major scale can be related to mathematics. The structure of note values and how they are subdivided is mathematical. It stands to reason that mathematical understanding and musical understanding are related.

            The question this study attempts to explore is: does music instruction enhance mathematical understanding?


Review of Related Literature

              Many studies have been done on the topic of music’s connection to mathematical understanding. Children develop an understanding of the structure of math long before they can understand or use its vocabulary and symbols. For example, recall the skills involved in the singing the childhood song This Old Man.  “This simple song incorporates many basic math skills, including matching and comparing (through changes in pitch, volume, and rhythm); patterning and sequencing (through repetitions of melodies, rhythms, and lyrics); and counting and addition (identifying cardinal numbers and adding one more with each verse).”(Church, 2001) Many other songs are used during early childhood to aid in children’s understanding of mathematical concepts such as counting. A few of those that come to mind are; 1, 2, Buckle my Shoe and Engine, Engine #9.

            It may begin with counting but the connection between music and mathematics blossoms into much more as students start to learn other mathematical concepts. “Mathematics is a major component of music. Music teaches and reinforces counting, number recognition, fractions, symbols and their meanings in a concrete way. Rhythm can also help students with memorization of math facts.” (Diamantes, 2002)

            Research studies have been conducted on the correlation between music and math for many years. Interestingly, the results cover a broad spectrum of findings. One of the studies “showed no significant statistical difference among students of mathematics while listening to various forms of background music, it seems likely that there is some association between music performance and development of mathematical skills.” (Diamantes, 2002)  This clearly shows that it isn’t just the presence of music but the actual study of and/or involvement in music is what has a positive impact on mathematical learning. Even within students who are studying music the results of these various studies have varied.

A study was conducted on high school students, comparing those with some music credits to those with none. No statistically significant difference was found in their mean math grade point averages or their mean cumulative grade point averages. However, the students were then separated into two groups based on the number of music credits. Students who had earned at least two music credits per grade level were placed into Group A. The remaining students were placed in group B. The Group A students performed better than the students in Group B. “Lower GPAs were nonexistent as the music credits increased.” (Cox, 2006)  This study would suggest that the mathematical benefits of studying music come with time and repetition.

Another example of the varying degrees of benefits among students of music was a study done using the results of a standardized test known as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBC). This study compared the mathematics scores of eighth graders who had received music instruction in a group setting or through private lessons. It also compared students who took private lessons on the keyboard versus students who did not. “Analyses indicated that students who had private lessons for two or more years performed significantly better on the composite mathematics portion of the ITBS than the students who did not have private lessons. In addition, students who received lessons on the keyboard had significantly higher ITBS mathematics scores that did students whose lessons did not involve the keyboard.” (Cheek, 1999)

Iowa is not the only state that has used standardized testing results to measure the effects of musical learning on mathematical understanding. Ohio has also used their test to explore the connection between music and math. They compared the results of instrumental music students and their non-instrumental classmates according to socioeconomic status (SES) over time. “The results show that instrumental students outperformed non-instrumental students in every subject and at every grade level. Instrumental students at both levels of SES held higher scores than their non-instrumental classmates from fourth grade, suggesting that instrumental music programs attract higher scorers from the outset of instruction.” (Fitzpatrick, 2006)

Some studies have even examined the impact of the quality of the music program on mathematical understanding. One such study was conducted utilizing scores from various parts of the United States. The findings were clear after all the scores were standardized for comparison purposes. “Analysis of elementary school data indicated that students in exemplary music education programs scored higher on both English and mathematics standardized tests than their counterparts who did not have this high-quality instruction; however, the effect sizes were slight. Analysis of middle school data indicated that for both English and math, students in both exceptional music programs scored better than those in no music classes or deficient choral programs; however the effect sizes were not large.” (Johnson, 2006) “Music participation, both inside of school and outside of school, is associated with measures of achievement among children and adolescents. (Southgate, 2009)

There have also been studies done in regards to how the brain functions during mathematics and music instruction. One study that was done based on the hemispheric laterality in music and math found “a relatively strong correlation was found between music ability and right-brain hemisphere preference. A relationship between math and left-brain hemisphere preference or integrated brain processing scores was found to be marginal.” (Szirony, 2008)  Other studies findings indicated that “both the right and left hemispheres of the brain are involved in processing the music.” (Diamantes, 2002) Even on the physiological level the processing of music and math are being studied because of their similar processing within the brain.

Statement of Hypothesis

            Students who have music class before math class will score higher on mathematical assessments than students who have music class after math class.


            The participants in this study were chosen based on availability to the researcher. Participants are 5th grade students who attend an elementary school in Mt. Sterling, KY. Socioeconomic status (SES) of students varies slightly; most are lower class to lower-middle class and Caucasian. All students have completed an instructional unit in music class that connected to various math concepts one month prior to the study. None of the students have received private instruction in music. They have music class for an entire week once every four weeks. Four classes of 25 students each participated in this study. Each class was made up of 20 students from the same homeroom and five students from a 5th homeroom.  

            This experimental study was conducted with the cooperation of the homeroom teachers of the 5th grade team. Two of the homeroom teachers were asked to move their math block to occur right before music class (Group A). Two homeroom teachers were asked to move their math block to right after music class (Group B). The remaining homeroom that was split up when attending my class will be analyzed separately as SubGroup C.

            The assessment was a standardized math assessment that the entire grade level across the district was using to assess the content of the current unit of study. It was an open response assessment that consisted of four word problems that included the content from the unit of study. It was administered on the fifth day (Friday) of music class.


Time Schedule

            This study was completed over a four week period in March/April 2012. Each class attended music class for five consecutive days for 50 minutes, per our school schedule.



            Significant differences were found when comparing these two groups.  The two and a half classes making up Group A, which attended music class after their math block, scored lower on the math assessment than the two and a half classes making up Group B, which attended music class before their math block.  

Group Involved in Study

Math Assessment Results - mean assessment score, percentage out of 100

Group A (50 students) Math before Music


Group B (50 students) Music before Math


SubGroup C (20 students)



Group B scored an average of 5% higher on the math assessment when compared to Group A. Subgroup C scored 2% higher than Group A, and 3% lower than Group B on the assessment.



            This study showed that students who attended music class prior to their math block scored higher on mathematical assessments when compared to students who attended music class after their math block. It is interesting to note that members of SubGroup C still scored high enough to raise their mean score over Group A. This study did not take into account that the homeroom teachers involved have different strengths as well. Some of them teach math more often than the others. Another potential variable to might have affected the results was the occurrence of Spring break during the duration of the study. Three of the classes were assessed prior to Spring break the other class was assessed after Spring break.

            A possible limitation to the findings of this study is that the scope is broad. The mathematical concepts that were being assessed were chosen by the researcher so there weren’t necessarily any intentional specific connections to the mathematical content during the duration of the study. With results this favorable without any intentional specific connections to the math content, one can hope that if it musical/mathematical connections are specific than there could be an even greater positive correlation between music learning and mathematical understanding.



Cheek, Joyce M., Smith, Lyle R. (1999). Music Training and Mathematical Achievement, Adolescence, Winter 1999, Vol. 34 Issue 136, p.759-761, 3p

Church, Ellen Booth (2001). The Math in Music & Movement, Early Childhood Today, January 2001, Vol. 15 Issue 4, p.38-45, 8p

Church, Ellen Booth (2006). Add Some Music & Math to Group Time, Early Childhood Today, October 2006, Vol. 21 Issue 2, p.33-34, 2p

Cox, H.A., Stephens, L.J. (2006). The Effect of Music Participation on Mathematical Achievement and Overall Academic Achievement of High School Students, International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, October 15 2006, Vol. 37 Issue 7, p.757-763, 7p

Diamantes, Thomas, Young, Karen M., McBee, Kimberly (2002). An Analysis of Reading and Content Area Skills Improvement through Music Instruction, Reading Improvement, Fall 2002, Vol. 39 Issue 3, p.114-118, 5p

Fitzpatrick, Kate R. (2006). The Effect of Instrumental Music Participation and Socioeconomic Status on Ohio Fourth-, Sixth-, and Ninth-Grade Proficiency Test Performance, Journal of Research in Music Education, Spring 2006, Vol. 54 Issue 1, p.73-84, 12p

Geist, Kamile, Geist, Eugene A. (2008). Do Re Mi, 1-2-3: That’s How Easy Math Can Be: Using Music to Support Emergent Mathematics, YC: Young Children, March 2008, Vol. 63 Issue 2, p.20-25, 6p

Johnson, Christopher M., Memmott, Jenny E. (2006). Examination of Relationships between Participation in School Music Programs of Differing Quality and Standardized Test Results, Journal of Research in Music Education, Winter 2006, Vol. 54 Issue 4, p.293-307, 15p

Olson, Catherine Applefield (2008). Test Scores Linked to Music Program Quality, Teaching Music; April 2008, Vol. 15 Issue 5, p.23-23, 1p

Southgate, Darby E., Roscigno, Vincent J. (2009). The Impact of Music on Childhood and Adolescent Achievement, Social Science Quarterly, March 2009, Vol. 90 Issue 1, p.4-21, 18p

Szirony, Gary Michael, Burgin, John S., Pearson, L. Carolyn (2008). Hemispheric Laterality in Music and Math, Learning Inquiry, December 2008, Vol.2 Issue 3, p.169-180, 12p