Prelude: Music Makes Us baseline research report

Eason, B. J. A., & Johnson, C. M.  (2013). Prelude: Music Makes Us baseline research report. Nashville, TN: Metro Nashville Public Schools.


Researchers from the University of Kansas sought to establish a baseline understanding of the effects of existing music programs in the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) in order to better understand the potential effects and implications of Music Makes Us, an enhanced music program launched in 2011 by the Mayor’s office, music industry leaders, and philanthropists. Music participation was found to have a range of positive effects on student personal, academic, social, and civic outcomes. Specifically, researchers found that increased music participation was positively associated with reduced discipline referrals and increased attendance, grades, on-time graduation, and test scores for over 6,000 students. A smaller group of current music students also participated in a series of surveys and focus groups; their responses showed that music participation has a positive effect on student behaviors and attitudes including identity, motivation, and mood.     

Key Findings:

  • Students who participated in MNPS music programs for up to one year had significantly better attendance and graduation rates, higher GPAs and test scores, and lower discipline reports than their non-music peers. Students with more than one year of music participation performed significantly better than their peers with less on each of these indicators.
  • Researchers estimated a causal relationship between music classes, student engagement, and academic achievement. They found that Student Characteristics had a large direct effect on Music Participation, and that School Engagement had an even larger effect on Academic Achievement. Music Participation had direct effects on Academic Achievement and Student Engagement.
  • Current music students tended to identify themselves and the bulk of their “friend group” as being musicians. They attribute academic behaviors such as self-discipline, persistence, and leadership to their participation in music, and reported that skills learned in music class transferred to other academic subjects including mathematics, literature, and foreign language. They described music participation as a motivator for demonstrating positive self-behaviors, specifically attendance. These students also reported that music class had positive effects on their mood, making them feel happier, less stressed, and more accomplished.

Significance of the Findings:

Findings of this study indicate music participation in middle and high school has meaningful impacts on student engagement and academic achievement. The ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of MNPS implies these findings might be generalizable to a range of student populations. Quality music programs are therefore worthy recipients of a school district’s resources, so that a maximum amount of students can experience the positive effects associated with music participation. Schools should take action to encourage participation and reverse attrition in these programs.


Researchers utilized both large-scale quantitative data analysis and multiple qualitative research methods to establish a baseline of data about music participation in MNPS schools. Quantitative data on high school music participation, school engagement, and academic achievement were collected for all students in the MNPS class of 2012 (6,006 students). Researchers looked at differences between key indicators of academic success for students with no music participation, up to one year of music participation, and more than one year of music participation. The indicators were attendance, discipline, GPA, on-time graduation, and ACT scores in English and Mathematics. Next, researchers conducted structural equation modeling on the data to estimate causal relationships between Student Characteristics, Music Participation, School Engagement, and Academic Achievement. Finally, surveys and focus groups were conducted with 5th through 12th grade students to elicit perceptions of music experiences in MNPS. There were 71 surveys and 93 focus group participants; the two groups were not necessarily discrete. Qualitative data was analyzed via an inductive approach, using the constant comparison method, thus allowing patterns and themes to emerge naturally from student responses.

Limitations of the Research:

While the correlational relationships indicated here have been strongly established, the causal relationships are estimations and can be predicted but not confirmed with the evidence and methodology utilized here. The analyses of variance used in this study simply report differences between non?music and music students, and there is no mechanism to explain causation of differences beyond these two variables. Although the quantitative data analysis was performed for over 6,000 students, the sample size for the qualitative data collection was much smaller and focused on music students only. Since it is impossible to compare these students’ perspectives with those of non-music students, it is impossible to know if their positive responses represent attitudes endemic to MNPS overall and not just music programs.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Does specific participation in a certain type of music course, or quality of music course, affect outcomes? Are the positive effects of participation in music present only while students are actively enrolled in classes, or do they outlast active participation? How can non-music students be encouraged to participate in these programs, and how can all students be encouraged to participate longer?