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Examining The Link Between Music And Scores For Math, Reading

NOEL KING, HOST:

Is there a link between studying music and being better at math and reading? Scientists have been studying and debating this for a long time, and a new study has some really interesting findings.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Martin Bergee co-authored this study. He's a music professor at the University of Kansas, and at first, he did not buy into this idea that there's a link.

MARTIN BERGEE: In fact, I was absolutely convinced that the link - once other things that are controlled for and accounted for, that the link between music achievement and math achievement and reading achievement essentially disappears.

KING: So he spent 10 years on this study. His research eliminated other factors that might account for why music students typically have such good math and reading scores.

BERGEE: The sex of the participant, the ethnicity of the participant, the economics of the family - all told, I think there were probably somewhere between 15 and 20 variables.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S PIANO SONATO NO. 11 IN A MAJOR)

KING: And Bergee's goal was to disprove the link between music, math and reading.

GREENE: But isn't the beauty of research you don't always end up finding what you expected? After studying more than a thousand mostly middle school students, he discovered he was wrong to be so skeptical. The link was actually really strong.

BERGEE: They were the opposite of what I was expecting. The relationship not only remained strong, but it remained very strong.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S PIANO SONATO NO. 11 IN A MAJOR)

KING: Bergee cannot explain why that relationship exists, and he knows that his study doesn't exactly settle the debate. But he says it could provide important context for school districts that are considering budget cuts to music programs.

BERGEE: If I were a school board, I would want my goal to be the education of the whole mind. And if you eliminate subjects like music, you eliminate the ability to learn others, like math and reading.

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GREENE: Martin Bergee's study on the relationship between music, math and reading was published in the Journal of Research in Music Education.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROCK PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S PIANO SONATO NO. 11 IN A MAJOR) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.