Math and Musical Achievement Go Together Interview with:

Martin J. Bergee Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs School of Music University of Kansas

Prof.  Bergee

Martin J. Bergee
Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
School of Music
University of Kansas What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: The idea that listening, participating, or achieving in music makes you better at another subject, say, math, science, or reading, has been around for a while.  Indeed, there’s a relationship between achievement in music and achievement in other content areas.  But I’ve always assumed that the relationship was spurious, that is, driven my any number of such background influences as urbanicity, ethnicity, SES, level of parent education, the type of school one attends, and so forth.  Essentially, I set out to demonstrate once and for all that with these background influences accounted for statistically, the relationship is considerably attenuated.  Much to my surprise, however, music achievement’s relationships with reading and math achievement remained quite strong. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: My collaborator and I made the case that if background variables don’t explain the relationships, perhaps domain-general learning processes do.  If indeed they do, then learning isn’t as modular as some persons might assume or want it to be.  At its most fundamental levels, learning is strongly interconnected.  Sacrificing some subject areas ostensibly to enhance others might compromise the ability of students to learn in a general sense, which should be the primary objective of schooling. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: In spite of our best efforts, we might have left out a crucial explanatory variable.  We should keep searching for them.  Assuming we didn’t, the next step might be to join research of this type with the current research in domain-general processing.  For example, there’s a group of cognitive processes called “executive functions”. Is there anything else you would like to add? Any disclosures?

Response: We’d like to express our appreciation to the National Association of Music Merchants, which provided generous support for the project.


Martin J. Bergee, Kevin M. Weingarten. Multilevel Models of the Relationship Between Music Achievement and Reading and Math Achievement. Journal of Research in Music Education, 2020; 002242942094143 DOI: 10.1177/0022429420941432

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Last Updated on December 8, 2020 by Marie Benz MD FAAD