It’s official: Music makes for better grades

Learning to play a musical instrument or having singing lessons helps teenagers make better progress in English and Maths. This is the finding of research by Hampshire County Council’s Music Service and The Institute of Education – which has now been published in the British Journal of Music Education.

Feb 8 2017

Hampshire County Council’s Executive Member for Education, Councillor Peter Edgar said: “It will come as no surprise to many teachers and musicians that learning music helps young people learn other subjects more successfully. We now have evidence to support that view. I’m delighted that we’ve been able to actually prove this through academic research, validated by peer review.

“Now that the research is available worldwide in an international, highly respected, professional journal, to the music education community, it’s to be hoped that other education authorities and schools will be able to make use of our learning.”

Between Key Stage 2 (junior school) and Key stage 4 (GCSE level), children in the study who were not learning any musical instrument progressed an average of 3.03 levels in English. Children learning an instrument or taking singing lessons progressed by an average of 3.6 levels. In Maths, the results were even more marked, with non-instrumentalists progressing an average of 3 levels, and instrumentalists progressing an average of 3.83 levels.

The research was instigated because many secondary school pupils miss some of their timetabled lessons in order to pursue learning an instrument. Hampshire County Council was keen to understand the effect of this on their learning. County Inspector for Music Education, Kevin Rogers, began exploring the relationship between learning an instrument (including vocal training) and attainment in core subjects.

He said: “My initial observations suggested that learning to play an instrument, or taking vocal lessons, correlated with high attainment in core subjects. However, I needed to prove that this correlation was caused by the musical learning, rather than other influences on attainment that music students might have in common with each other.”

Mr Rogers sought the help of an experienced researcher in the field of Music Education, Professor Susan Hallam MBE. Together they analysed data that enabled pupils’ progress to be measured from key stage 2 to key stage 4, with a range of starting levels of attainment.

These studies showed that regardless of a pupil’s level of attainment at the start of their musical learning, their rate of progress was significantly improved by taking music lessons. The study also showed that the effect on progress increases; the longer pupils continue taking their music lessons.

The resulting paper, ‘The impact of Instrumental Learning on Attainment at Age 16 – a pilot study’ explains the study and its results in detail and discusses some of the possible reasons why musical learning is so beneficial.