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Music helps students retain math

Archived article from Mar 6, 2006

By Pam Orel  

A Rutgers instructor says that Baroque style music played during mathematics class helped students enjoy class and retain more information. The research builds on studies linking certain music to improvements in learning.

The three-year study was conducted by Maya Ruvinshteyn, instructor in mathematics at Essex County College and Rutgers-Newark, and Leonard Parrino, mathematics professor at Essex County College.

According to the body of research over the past 40 years, Baroque music pulses between 50 to 60 beats per minute and has been shown to enhance learning of foreign languages and to improve performance in some types of tests. Because of this, the music has been widely marketed as a learning tool.

“I first heard about music as a learning tool when I was studying English,” says Ruvinshteyn, who spoke Russian as a first language. She believes that their study is the first that links music to improved attitudes and to math and better performance in the college environment.The faculty members studied two groups of classes at Essex County College. In the first group, the instructor played baroque-style music in the background during the first month of the semester. The second group, taught by the same instructors, was not exposed to music during class time. After the first month, surveys showed that students who listened to music were more likely to enjoy class (86 percent vs. 76 percent) and less likely to find mathematics challenging (33 percent vs. 46 percent). Similar changes were noted in both groups regardless of which instructor taught the course. Pre- liminary results also indicated an improvement in
student grades.

Some selected comments volunteered on the original surveys:

• “I never liked math before, but this class was different.”

• “I thought the music would put me to sleep, instead I was paying more attention to
his board work.”

• “Most classes have someone tapping a pencil, chewing, talking or whispering. This class is different.”

“The ancient philosopher Plato said, ‘Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education,’” Ruvinshteyn says. “Our study shows that learning can be made more enjoyable for the students and more pleasant for the instructors when appropriate music is added to the environment.”

Return to the Mar 6, 2006 issue


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Last Updated: May 30, 2006

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