Historic and ethnic music found to increase geographic understanding: A quasi-experimental study

Richardson, R. & Brouillette, L. (2013). Historic and ethnic music found to increase geographic understanding: A quasi-experimental study. Journal for Learning through the Arts 9(1)


This study evaluated an eighth-grade supplementary music and geography curriculum (Mapping the Beat) funded by a grant from the National Geographic Foundation. Students at a suburban middle school were randomly assigned to seven United States history classes, four implemented the Mapping the Beat curriculum and three served as the control group. Using two pre- and two-post tests, this study found that students who participated in Mapping the Beat curriculum presented significantly greater growth in both geographic knowledge and positive attitudes toward geography.

Key Findings:

This quasi-experimental study conducted with eighth grade students investigated the effect of implementing supplementary music history workshops on student attitudes and understandings of geographic concepts. The study identified the following outcomes:

Students in the treatment group were more likely to display a positive attitude to geography-related careers, enjoyment, and leisure activities.

Students in the treatment group displayed increased positive attitudes towards geography, whereas students in the control group had increasingly negative attitudes.

95% of students in the treatment group improved in geographical knowledge at some point in the study, whereas the control group only had a 32% student improvement rate.

Significance of the Findings:

This study explored the positive impact that integrating the arts into other subjects can have on student achievement and overall engagement in and attitude toward school and learning. The findings of the study suggest that when music is in conjunction with geography, students may demonstrate an increased knowledge of geography. In addition, the increased level of positive attitudes toward geography indicate that by using arts-integrated techniques, teachers may be able to reach students who would otherwise not be engaged in the learning.


For this study, the eighth-grade students at a suburban middle school were randomly assigned by computer to one of seven United States history classes; three classes became the “control” group and four classes were designated as the “treatment” group. Control and treatment groups were given the same pre-tests prior to beginning the course and explored similar United States history topics each week. The same teachers taught both treatment and control classes. Students from the four treatment classes participated in eighteen 45-minute Mapping the Beat lessons and three additional 50-minute large group music presentations. The curriculum for the control group, which included three United States history classes, emphasized readings from the text and primary source documents, along with whole class discussions. Following the completion of the class, all students were given the same post-tests.

Limitations of the Research:

The generalizability of this study is limited by the fact that only one school participated in the study and by the fact that the study only used students from one grade level.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How does the multi-sensory nature of music workshops influence student attention and memory? How does students' prior experience with and interest in music influence their response to the integration of music into U.S. history curriculum? Would these same effects be seen in other grades?