Window of opportunity? Adolescence, music, and algebra.

Helmrich. B. H. (2010). Window of opportunity? Adolescence, music, and algebra. Journal of Adolescent Research. 25 (4).


This study analyzes 2006-2007 data from the Maryland Algebra/Data Analysis High School Assessment in relationship to student enrollment data in middle school music. The researcher collected data from six school districts in the state representing over 6,000 students. Findings suggest that students enrolled in either formal instrumental or choral music instruction outperformed those who experienced neither of those modes of music instruction.

Key Findings:

The study finds that formal instrumental instruction was positively correlated with algebra achievement, as was choral instruction but to a lesser extent. Findings were consistent regardless of race—both white students and black students with music instruction performed better in algebra than their counterparts of the same race who did not have music instruction. The data also suggest that formal music instruction affects the achievement of black students to a greater degree than it does the achievement of white students.

Significance of the Findings:

The correlational analysis supports the hypothesis that music instruction is positively related to students’ mathematical achievement. Math educators, curriculum developers, and advocates working to close the achievement gap between black and white students may wish to include music instruction in middle school curricula. These findings provide rationale and support for arts educators to continue advocating for the inclusion of music education in middle school and secondary classrooms.


The researcher gathered test scores from 6,026 students in the state of Maryland from the 2006-07 administration of the Algebra/Data Analysis High School Assessment. A correlation study was conducted using statistical analysis to explore the influence of formal music instruction during the middle school years on ninth-grader’s algebra achievement.

Limitations of the Research:

The distribution of High School Assessment scores was not normal (e.g., a standard bell curve). Statistical tests rely on the assumption that score distribution is normal, so having a skewed distribution can affect the outcomes of those tests.

Another limitation is that these results may not apply to students in other states, as each state uses different state-defined testing standards. Further, the researchers were not able to account for other factors that may influence math skills, or whether students received formal music instruction outside of the school setting.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Would test score findings be similar if students were randomly assigned to receive music instruction? How much (dosage and intensity) is needed for music instruction to affect mathematics scores? Are students with higher achievement in mathematics more likely to enroll in music classes, which could be one explanation for this study?