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Monday, March 15, 1999 Published at 13:24 GMT


Learning maths through music

Learning to play the piano "improves pupils' numeracy"

Music lessons can significantly improve the maths skills of primary school children, according to a study.

Researchers found that pupils at a Los Angeles school who learned to play the piano and read music improved their numeracy.

"The learning of music emphasizes thinking in space and time," says the study, which is published in the latest edition of Neurological Research.

"When children learn rhythm, they are learning ratios, fractions, and proportions."

The four-month project was led by professor Gordon Shaw of the University of California, Irvine.

It involved 136 second-year pupils at the 95th Street Elementary School, one of Los Angeles' poorest performing schools.


Their test results were compared to a 1997 pilot study in which 102 second year pupils at poorly performing schools in Orange County received traditional maths teaching assisted by the use of computer programs.

The Los Angeles pupils' results were 27% higher than their Orange County counterparts, and they were able to understand and analyse ratios and fractions, concepts usually not introduced until the sixth year of schooling.

"That 27% increase was just in four months," said Professor Shaw. "Continued music training would continue to boost that. Kids who could play more sophisticated music would increase their enhancement in math skills."

But some academics remain sceptical about such a direct link between music and learning, arguing that the music lessons could have improved results by simply raising the children's self-esteem.

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