16. June 2010 · 2 comments · Categories: News

Algebra, according to the Great Schools website, “is frequently called the gatekeeper subject.” It provides a solid foundation for later learning by teaching abstract reasoning skills. What’s more, its lessons apply to an increasing number of jobs in our technologically sophisticated society.
So how can you increase the chances your son or daughter will excel at algebra? A new study provides a surprising answer: Have them learn a musical instrument.
Researcher Barbara Helmrich of Baltimore’s College of Notre Dame examined a sample of 6,026 ninth-graders enrolled in six Maryland school districts. All had completed an introductory algebra course in either eighth or ninth grade and taken the HSA, a test that assesses how well they learned the subject.
Helmrich divided the students into three groups: Those who had received formal instruction on a musical instrument during the sixth, seventh and eighth grades; those who received choral instruction during those same years; and those who received no formal musical training.
She found the students who studied music significantly outperformed their peers. “Formal instrumental instruction impacted algebra scores the most,” she reports. “Choral instruction also affected scores, but to a lesser extent.”


That being said, I feel it necessary to admit that I and algebra were never friends. Ever.

(Many thanks to Janice Sinclair who sent me this link.)


  1. Maybe there’s more to this study than the article describes. But, taking it at face value , I gotta say At most, you could say there appears to be some correlation between musical study and algebra performance. But, to leap from that directly into that claim that music somehow helps math ability is pure wishful thinking. We might just as well claim it implies algebra makes you want to study music — which would be just as much a stretch.

    I’m a huge believer in music as an essential part of educational curricula. But making unsupportable claims that it’s some sort of “royal road” to success in other disciplines is both counterproductive and just plain silly

    Do you suppose this is another flavor of “Mozart Effect” nonesense?

  2. I think all these studies need to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Except for the ones that say that double reed players are crazy.

    Oh … and the one that says double reed players have been shown to be bad at yard work and should always have free help.