Music and Math - Is There a Learning Connection?
We know the brain adapts and physically changes when it's exposed to new experiences and this remarkable plasticity is the the basis for learning.
Brain mapping using MRI images provide us with glimpse into which part of the brain is active during particular tasks.
Some research papers have used brain mapping to suggest that learning music develops the same cognitive spatial-temporal part of the brain as mathematics - so there's a possible math benefit in learning music.
Let's put the neuroscience to one side. As a parent of two children who are learning a musical instrument I notice quite a few obvious connections:
- Many aspects of math - such as times tables and series - are based on repeating patterns. So too is music.
- Rhythm is a form of counting.
- Reading music requires counting - eg to know when to come back in.
The value of practice
In music it’s pretty well accepted that to be good you have to practice a lot. However in mathematics education, 'practice' appears to have slipped down the agenda.
This is a shame because children need a lot of time and practice to master the basic arithmetic skills that underpin their future understanding and confidence in math.
The goal in learning both math and music is to become fluent - to build an instinctive sense of the notes or numbers that feel right. When you've achieved this it stays with you for life and it’s very rewarding.
I can’t prove it but my hunch is that learning a musical instrument complements a child’s learning in math and other subjects.
We don't know for sure whether there's a brain development benefit but the self discipline, concentration and persistence children gain through learning a musical instrument goes a long way to equipping them for the academic and professional challenges that lie ahead.
The same is true for all extra-curricular learning be it languages, drama, sports or indeed math.
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