Arts Education

Study: Music Education Benefits Adolescents’ Wellbeing

A study published in January 2023 by the University of Southern California (USC) in the journal “Frontiers in Psychology” on the impact of music education showed that middle school students gained not only cognitive benefits, but a greater sense of wellbeing in the five key areas of Positive Youth Development (PYD). The study’s findings come at a time when California voters have recently approved Proposition 28, to increase funding for arts and music education in the state’s public schools.

The study, conducted by Beatriz Ilari, associate professor of music education at the USC Thornton School of Music, and Eun Cho of Haskins Laboratories at Yale University, focused primarily on students participating in the Fender Play Foundation’s Virtual Middle School Music Enrichment (VMSME) program. The program is designed specifically as an accessible extracurricular music program in response to the pandemic. The 120 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students in the final analysis came from 52 different middle schools from multiple neighborhoods in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Most students (98%) were involved in one or more musical activities in or out of school, with most practicing their instruments daily.

Students were provided with musical instruments, access to the Fender Play learning app, and group online music lessons with credentialed teachers, all free of charge. Participants played a variety of instruments, with plucked string instruments predominating.

The study looked at the “five Cs,” key areas of PYD: competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring/compassion. It also examined school connectedness (SC) and hopeful future expectations (HFE).

Using the PYD’s five-point scale (1 = not all; 5 = very true), students responded to statements in each of the areas and showed the following scores: competence, 3.52; confidence, 3.83; character, 4.2; caring/compassion, 4.38; and connection, 3.98. Gender differences showed more males scored higher in competence and confidence, and females higher in character and caring/compassion. Those who identified as non-binary and preferred not to answer scored lower than females on overall PYD and connection, and lower than males on confidence and connection. The authors feel this is a significant finding and urge that “future research using PYD as a framework move beyond the gender binary. Findings from these studies will not only contribute to our understanding of PYD in adolescence, but will also inform the development of programs and policy for all young people.”

The authors found that students who participated in multiple kinds of music education for a long time scored “high on competence … and on HFE. Participation in extracurricular activities in schools and liking music also predicted students’ SC.” Their findings also aligned with other studies showing that music programs fostered adolescents working through emotional and identity issues, helping them to develop positive views of themselves and the future.

Visit the research article’s page in “Frontiers in Psychology” to read the full study.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.