Can music be used to teach reading?

Butzlaff, R. (2000). Can music be used to teach reading? Journal of Aesthetic Education, 34(3/4), 167-178.


This study tests the hypothesis that instruction in music improves performance in reading. The researcher conducted two meta-analyses. The first meta-analysis included 29 studies examining the correlation between music instruction and reading performance. The second meta-analysis included six studies with experimental research designs examining whether music instruction causes increases in reading achievement.

Key Findings:

The first meta-analysis of correlational studies demonstrated a significant, positive correlation between music instruction and students’ scores on standardized reading tests or verbal scores on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) for high school students. The mean effect size was small, but robust.

The second meta-analysis of experimental studies yielded no reliable effect. Music study did not improve reading for children in elementary grades.

Significance of the Findings:

This study finds that music education is related to reading achievement. This finding may be relevant to educators, reading specialists, and school districts considering implementing music programs or interventions designed to enhance reading ability, as well as program development.


The meta-analyses involved three basic steps: (1) a literature search for all possible studies, both published and unpublished, in the defined population; (2) identification and categorization of the relevant characteristics and results of the studies; and (3) conversion of outcomes to comparable effect size measures. Criteria for study inclusion were that study design included: (1) a standardized measure of reading used as the dependent variable; (2) a test of reading that followed music instruction; and (3) statistical information that was sufficient to allow for effect size calculation.

Limitations of the Research:

The basic limitations of this research are those associated generally with the use of meta-analytic techniques—it combines data from different studies conducted under varying circumstances that perpetuates an inherent bias toward published articles because the researcher may fail to uncover unpublished studies. Specific to this research, the very small number of relevant studies (only six) used in the meta-analyses of experimental studies, coupled with the significant heterogeneity of effect sizes and vulnerability to researcher expectancy effects pose further limitations. Finally, while the meta-analysis of correlational studies provides evidence of a relationship between music instruction and reading achievement, it does not permit the conclusion to be drawn that music instruction leads to greater reading achievement. Studies of correlational design cannot prove causal relationships.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Does music instruction lead to (cause) greater achievement in reading? How does instruction in music enhance reading ability?