M. Janurik, N. Szabó, K. Józsa

University of Szeged (HUNGARY)
There is ample research to support that learning music has a positive effect on cognitive development and school success. In recent years, the focus of the research has shifted to exploring the relationship between music training and the executive functions (which main dimensions are working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility). As a result, there is evidence to confirm that music learning has a positive effect on the development of the executive functions (e.g. Jaschke, Honing and Scherder, 2018; Schellenberg, 2015). However, no empirical data is available about the relationship of simple musical activities and the executive functions. From an educational point of view, it would be essential to know the strength of the relationship between the development of the executive functions and the level of development of the various musical skills, but no research has examined it before.

Musical perception is the basis of all musical activities like musical instrument play, which development is determined by certain universal aspects of musical structure as well as by the environment (Hannon and Trainor, 2007). According to the modular theory of musical perception (Peretz and Coultheart, 2003), pitch and time perception are distinct from each other and develop differently. Therefore, their level of development should be examined separately, while also examining the developmental level of musical perception organically. Musical aptitude, as measured by instruments, starts to develop at the start of formal education, which, compared to musical instrument play, is characterized by less complex, playful singing and rhythmical activities.

This research study is aimed at exploring the relationship of musical perception and the executive function at the beginning of formal education. Data collection took place in May, 2018, at the end of the academic year. Participants were 131 first-grade students from 6 different classes. Their average age was 7 years and 2 months. 51% of the participants were boys. Children were educated in line with the Hungarian National Core Curriculum, which heavily relies on the Kodály method. Students had 45-minute music classes twice a week, musical instrument play was not part of their education.

Tests were administered via tablets as Android applications. The executive function was measured with the FOCUS test (Cronbach’s α: .88; Józsa Barrett, & Morgan, 2017). The musical perception test consisted of two subtests: pitch perception (22 items; Cronbach’s α: .78) and timing perception (12 items; Cronbach’s α: .71).

Significant correlation was found between the executive function and musical perception (r = .27, p = .002). The correlation of pitch perception and the executive function (r = .19, p = .03) and the correlation of timing perception and the executive function (r = .24, p = .007) were also found to be significant. No significant difference was found between the strength of the correlations.

The research provides evidence that musical perception is linked to the development of the executive function in children. Results suggest that even less complex musical activities used in the first year of formal education may contribute to the development of the executive function. However, more research is needed to confirm the role of transfer.

This study was funded by the Content Pedagogy Research Program of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.