Learning to make music enhances spatial reasoning

Hetland, L. (2000). Learning to make music enhances spatial reasoning. Journal of Aesthetic Education. 34(3/4), 179–238.

Abstract:

This study describes the relationship between active music instruction and performance on spatial tasks. The researcher conducted three different analyses of previously published studies that measured the association between music instruction and spatial tasks. The first analysis found that active music instruction lasting two years or less led to improved performance on spatial-temporal measures. In the second analysis, music instruction did not enhance performance on the Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices, an intelligence measure. In the third analysis, the researcher found that performance on several types of spatial tasks other than spatial-temporal were enhanced by music instruction.

Key Findings:

  • Active music instruction lasting two years or less was related to improved performance on spatial-temporal measures. Additionally, music instruction had a greater impact on younger children, programs including standard notation enhanced performance more than those without standard notation, and one-on-one lessons were more effective than group instruction. There was not a significant difference of impact between programs lasting six weeks and two years.
  • Music instruction did not enhance performance on the Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices.
  • Spatial memory, spatial recognition, mental rotation, and spatial visualization are enhanced by music instruction.

Significance of the Findings:

The findings support current research demonstrating the positive relationship between music instruction and performance on spatial tasks. Also, findings add support to research that shows smaller class sizes lead to increased learning, as one-on-one music instruction led to higher spatial cognitive performance.

Methodology:

The researcher conducted a meta-analysis of 15 studies (five published and 10 unpublished) that measured the relationship between music and spatial outcomes. The studies were coded in four categories: data factors (total and condition sample size, means/standard deviations, analysis scores), sample characteristics (age, socioeconomic status, gender, music background), program factors (length, intensity, instruments, format of music), and experimental design (number of conditions, outcome measures, publication status). All music instruction was conducted by professional music educators with children between ages three and 15. Effect sizes were calculated from the data reported by each study author.

The researcher conducted three analyses. The first analysis used all 15 studies (701 subjects) to examine the relationship between music instruction and spatial-temporal tasks. The second, compared data from three studies (694 subjects) that used Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices, a “nonverbal measure of general or logical intelligence.” The final analysis used data from eight studies (655 subjects) that reported results on a range of spatial abilities not including Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices.

Limitations of the Research:

The results did not include all types of music. The relationship between music and spatial reasoning was not measured over time, therefore long term effects cannot be assumed from these results. Single subtests used with pre-elementary age children traditionally have low reliability.

Questions to Guide New Research:

The researcher identifies further areas of research including conducting new studies with larger sample sizes, focusing on older (high school) and younger (early childhood) age groups, and measuring the combined effect of teaching music and spatial skills against teaching spatial skills alone. New studies could measure effects of teaching for transfer between music instruction and spatial reasoning. More longitudinal studies also need to be done.