A study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology reports that high schoolers who play musical instruments tend to score higher in exams compared to non-musical peers.
This study was the largest of its kind, with the authors looking at academic performance and music engagement—which refers to the number of music classes taken—of more than 110,000 Canadian high school students.
The senior author of this study was Peter Gouzouasis, professor of music education at the University of British Columbia. He found that students who had taken multiple music classes in high school were one year ahead of those who did not take any music classes in terms of their English, science, and math skills.
Although other studies report that this phenomenon is due to better students being more likely to take music classes, Gouzouasis discovered that the differences in grades between music and non-music students were consistent regardless of prior academic achievement in middle school. In addition, he discovered that other factors—such as gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status—also didn’t make a difference.
Researchers continue to investigate how music transfers to better grades. One of Gouzouasis’ theories is that the changes in the structure and function of the auditory cortex and Heschl’s Gyrus, a part of the brain that contains the primary auditory cortex, that come with playing music could translate to improvement in other tasks. He also believes that the ability to imagine music without hearing it could confer cognitive benefits.
“It is likely that some skills learned in band, orchestra, and conservatory music lessons transfer very broadly to adolescents’ learning in school,” Gouzouasis says. The variety of learning processes music students engage in (such as learning to read sheet music, improving listening skills, developing eye-hand-mind coordination, team skills, and the discipline to practice) aid their general school performance.
The findings of this study clearly indicate that active participation in music improves students’ academic performance. The authors of this study hope their findings will encourage schools to support music education.