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The fine motor abilities of children who participated in two years of piano instruction and those who had never received formal music training were compared before and after the instruction. A significant improvement in fine motor skills was found only for the children who received the lessons, and a significant difference in the speed of response was found between the two groups at the end of the two years of instruction. The innumerable opportunities to assess, refine, and time their motor responses to specific stimuli during musical practice and the availability of constant evaluative feedback (i.e., sound) may allow musicians to improve the accuracy and speed of perceiving and responding to relevant stimuli.
Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1060: 262–264 (2005). © 2005 New York Academy of Sciences.
doi: 10.1196/annals.1360.053
Does Music Instruction Improve
Fine Motor Abilities?
University of Texas–Austin, Center for Music Learning, Austin, Texas 78712-0435, USA
ABSTRACT: The fine motor abilities of children who participated in two years
of piano instruction and those who had never received formal music training
were compared before and after the instruction. A significant improvement in
fine motor skills was found only for the children who received the lessons, and
a significant difference in the speed of response was found between the two
groups at the end of the two years of instruction. The innumerable opportuni-
ties to assess, refine, and time their motor responses to specific stimuli during
musical practice and the availability of constant evaluative feedback (i.e.,
sound) may allow musicians to improve the accuracy and speed of perceiving
and responding to relevant stimuli.
KEYWORDS: children; motor response; music instruction; music education;
music practice
Musicians outperform nonmusicians in certain perception tasks that require an
accurate and immediate motor response to a visual stimulus.1 These results have
been taken as evidence that music training increases the speed and accuracy of the
visual–motor association. Similarly, the anatomical differences in the sensorimotor
cortex found between musicians and nonmusicians suggest that extensive music
practice affects the organization of this cortical area.2–5 Studies that focused on the
cortical representation of hand fingers during intensive keyboard practice sessions
have indeed shown clear changes over periods as short as five days and as long as
two weeks.5 No longitudinal research exists on the neurological changes that occur
over longer periods of musical practice.
Although a few studies conducted with young children suggest that early music
instruction improves performance in visual–motor tasks,6,7 others showed no signif-
icant fine motor skills improvements after five months of violin instruction.8 The ef-
fects of instrumental practice on fine motor skills in children have not been studied
systematically despite the strong belief among parents and educators that learning to
play an instrument improves dexterity and motor control.
Address for correspondence: Eugenia Costa-Giomi, University of Texas–Austin, Center for
Music Learning, 1 University Station E3100, Austin, TX 78712-0435. Voice: 512-471-2495.
Children (n = 117) attending 16 public schools who had no formal music instruc-
tion, no piano at home, and family annual incomes below $30,000 were randomly
assigned to either the experimental group receiving two years of individual piano
lessons weekly or the control group receiving no formal music instruction. Children
in the experimental group received acoustic pianos and practiced, as an average, up
to 3.5 hours weekly.9 The cognitive abilities, academic achievement, musical abili-
ties, self-esteem, and motor proficiency of the two groups were comparable at the
start of the project as determined by standardized tests.10
Fifty-one children in the experimental group and 39 children in the control group
completed the fine motor components of the Bruinsky-Oseretsky Motor Proficiency
Test before and after the two years of instruction. The total scores of the fine motor
test and the scores in subtest 6: Response Speed, subtest 7: Visual-Motor Control,
and subtest 8: Upper-Limb Speed and Dexterity were analyzed through ANOVAs
with repeated measures.
Significant group (piano/non-piano group) × instruction (pre/posttest, repeated
measures) interactions were found for the total fine motor scores and the response
speed subtest scores F(1,88) = 4.01 P < .05 and F(1,88) = 13.61 P < .001, respec-
tively. The fine motor skills of the piano group improved significantly more during
the two years of the project than did those of the control group, and the differences
in Subtest 6 scores between the two groups of children were significant only after
the two years of piano instruction. These results suggest that the improvement in mo-
tor proficiency was mainly caused by differential scores in the speed subtest which
required children to react quickly to catch a rod that was sliding down against a wall.
Scores in tasks that measured eye–hand coordination and dexterity were not affected
by the lessons.
Music performance requires accurate and quick motor reaction to visual, aural,
and kinesthetic stimuli. When performers practice their instruments, they receive
immediate and consistent aural feedback about their motor response to such stimuli.
The innumerable opportunities to assess, refine, and time their motor responses to
specific stimuli during musical practice and the availability of constant evaluative
feedback (i.e., sound) may allow musicians to improve the accuracy and speed in
perceiving the stimuli and responding to it.
[Competing interests: The authors declare that they have no competing financial
1. BROCHARD, R. et al. 2004. Effect of musical expertise on visuospatial abilities: evi-
dence from reaction times and mental imagery. Brain Cogn. 54: 103–109.
2. ELBERT, T., C. PANTEV, C. WIENDBRUCH, et al. 1995. Increased cortical representation
of the fingers of the left hand in string players. Science 270: 305–307.
3. JÄNCKE, L., N.J. SHAH & M. PETERS. 2000. Cortical activations in primary and second-
ary motor areas for complex bimanual movements in professional pianists. Brain
Res. Cogn. Brain Res. 10: 177–183.
4. PANTEV, C., A. ENGELIEN, V. CANDIA & T. ELBERT. 2001. Representational cortex in
musicians. Plastic alterations in response to musical practice. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci.
930: 300–314.
5. PASCUAL-LEONE, A. 2001. The brain that plays music and is changed by it. Ann. N. Y.
Acad. Sci 930: 315–332.
6. BROWN, J. et al. 1981. Effects of an integrated physical education/music program in
changing early childhood perceptual–motor performance. Percept. Mot. Skills 53:
7. ORSMOND, G.I. & L.K. MILLER. 1999. Cognitive, musical, and environmental correlates
of early music instruction. Psychol. Mus. 27: 18–37.
8. ESSMA, S. 2005. Does music instruction increase children’s fine motor abilities?
University of Texas Austin. Unpublished manuscript.
9. COSTA-GIOMI, E. 2005. “I do not want to study piano!” Early predictors of student
dropout behavior. Bull. Coun. Res. Music Educ. 161/162: 57–64.
10. COSTA-GIOMI, E. 1999. The effects of three years of piano instruction on children’s
cognitive development. J. Res. Music Educ. 47: 198–212.
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People of all ages can appreciate and engage in the occupation of music. Music can be enjoyed through listening, playing an instrument, singing, and dancing. It has significance in many people’s lives; however, few intervention programs outside the field of music therapy exist that capitalize on the therapeutic potential of music in pediatric populations with disabilities. More specifically, when utilized in an enriched sensory environment, the auditory stimuli and feedback music naturally provide becomes a therapeutic tool especially for children with visual impairments. We designed an interprofessional intervention program, combining the expertise of an occupational therapist and of a music therapist to systematically teach piano keyboarding to preschool children with impaired vision. We conducted a small, mixed methods non-randomized pilot case study to determine how such a program could be successfully embedded into a preschool setting, to examine if fine motor skills improve post-intervention, and to study the perceived effects on participants and their families. Participants were selected from an urban preschool classroom designed specifically for children with visual impairments, and four students met the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Preliminary results suggest that fine motor skills did improve after participating in this program for 20 minutes twice a week, over a 6-week period. Participants found the “just right challenge” through song selection and progressed toward defined song mastery within 1–2 sessions, maintaining motivation and enjoyment. In addition, the program was successfully integrated into the preschool schedule and a parent interview revealed favorable perceptions of the programs and its effects.
The phoneme monitoring task is a musical priming paradigm that demonstrates that both musicians and non-musicians have gained implicit understanding of prevalent harmonic structures. Little research has focused on implicit music learning in musicians and non-musicians. This current study aimed to investigate whether the phoneme monitoring task would identify any implicit memory differences between musicians and non-musicians. It focuses on both implicit knowledge of musical structure and implicit memory for specific musical sequences. Thirty-two musicians and non-musicians (19 female and 13 male) were asked to listen to a seven-chord sequence and decide as quickly as possible whether the final chord ended on the syllable /di/ or /du/. Overall, musicians were faster at the task, though non-musicians made more gains through the blocks of trials. Implicit memory for musical sequence was evident in both musicians and non-musicians. Both groups of participants reacted quicker to sequences that they had heard more than once but showed no explicit knowledge of the familiar sequences.
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The purpose of this study was to identify early predictors of drop out behavior in children engaged in piano instruction. Fourth-grade children (33 boys, 34 girls) were provided, at no cost to their families, with three years of weekly private piano lessons and an acoustic piano. Twenty-four children dropped out of the lessons during the first two years of the project. Prior to the start of the lessons, children completed tests and questionnaires and, throughout the project, piano teachers completed weekly progress reports about the attendance, piano homework, and practice routines of the children. There were no differences in cognitive abilities, musical abilities, motor proficiency, self-esteem and demographic factors (i.e., sex, family income, parental employment, parental education, and family structure) between the children who dropped out and those who completed three years of lessons. Dropouts were less likely to have siblings, missed more lessons, practiced less, and completed less piano homework than did their peers. Piano teachers reported that the dropouts had achieved less in the first six weeks of lessons than had the other children. These findings suggest that the clearest indications that a student is likely to dropout of piano lessons are lowered motivation and diminished achievement.
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Recently, the relationship between music and nonmusical cognitive abilities has been highly debated. It has been documented that formal music training would improve verbal, mathematical or visuospatial performance in children. In the experiments described here, we tested if visual perception and imagery abilities were enhanced in adult musicians compared with nonmusicians. In our main experiment, we measured reaction times of subjects who had to detect on which side of a horizontal or a vertical line a target dot was flashed. In the "imagery" condition the reference line disappeared before the target dot was presented. In order to accomplish the task, subjects had to keep a mental image of the position of the line until the dot appeared. In the "perception" condition, the procedure and stimuli were the same except that the line remained on the screen until the dot was displayed. In both groups, reaction times were shorter for horizontal compared to vertical discrimination, but reaction times were significantly shorter in musicians in all conditions. Moreover, discrimination on the vertical dimension, especially in imaging condition, seemed to be greatly improved on the long term by musical expertise. Simple and choice visual reaction times indicate that this advantage could only be partly explained by better sensorimotor integration in adult musicians.
This study investigated the effects of early music instruction on music perception skills as well as specific areas of cognitive development (non-verbal/spatial abilities). Participants were 29 children enrolled in beginning music instruction, and 29 children matched in age and gender attending preschool, without formal music lessons. The children were assessed on a music perception task (melody recognition) and a variety of cognitive measures (receptive vocabulary, visual-motor integration, an embedded figures task, and puzzles), prior to beginning music instruction and four months later. The results indicated that preschool children taking music lessons may be a select group; they were more likely to have previous musical experience and additional extra-curricular activities. After four months of music lessons, children in the music group showed the greatest improvement on the music task. A transfer effect was observed primarily for visual-motor skills, with the music group improving significantly on the visual-motor integration task. The findings are discussed as relevant to previous research. Implications for music education are also discussed. © 1999 by the Society for Research in Psychology of Music and Music Education.
Playing a musical instrument demands extensive procedural and motor learning that results in plastic reorganization of the human brain. These plastic changes seem to include the rapid unmasking of existing connections and the establishment of new ones. Therefore, both functional and structural changes take place in the brain of instrumentalists as they learn to cope with the demands of their activity. Neuroimaging techniques allow documentation of these plastic changes in the human brain. These plastic changes are fundamental to the accomplishment of skillful playing, but they pose a risk for the development of motor control dysfunctions that may give rise to overuse syndromes and focal, task-specific dystonia.
Two approaches to facilitating perceptual-motor development in children, ages 4 to 6 yr., were investigated. The experimental group (n = 15) received 24 sessions of integrated physical education/music instruction based upon concepts of Kodaly and Dalcroze. The control group (n = 15) received 24 sessions of movement exploration and self-testing instruction. Analysis of covariance indicated that significant improvement occurred only in the experimental group, with discharges changes in the motor, auditory, and language aspects of perceptual-motor performance as well as total score.
Hemodynamic responses were measured applying functional magnetic resonance imaging in two professional piano players and two carefully matched non-musician control subjects during the performance of self-paced bimanual and unimanual tapping tasks. The bimanual tasks were chosen because they resemble typical movements pianists have to generate during piano exercises. The results showed that the primary and secondary motor areas (M1, SMA, pre-SMA, and CMA) were considerably activated to a much lesser degree in professional pianists than in non-musicians. This difference was strongest for the pre-SMA and CMA, where professional pianists showed very little activation. The results suggest that the long lasting extensive hand skill training of the pianists leads to greater efficiency which is reflected in a smaller number of active neurons needed to perform given finger movements. This in turn enlarges the possible control capacity for a wide range of movements because more movements, or more 'degrees of freedom', are controllable.
The lifelong ability to adapt to environmental needs is based on the capacity of the central nervous system for plastic alterations. In a series of neurophysiological experiments, we studied the impact of music and musical training in musicians on the specific functional organization in auditory and somatosensory representational cortex. In one such study, subjects listened to music from which one specific spectral frequency was removed. This led to rapid and reversible adaptation of neuronal responses in auditory cortex. Further experimental evidence demonstrated that long years of practice and training by professional musicians to enable them to reach their capacity is associated with enlarged cortical representations in the somatosensory and auditory domains. This tuning of neuronal representations was specifically observed for musical tones and was absent when pure sinusoidal tones were used as stimuli. In the somatosensory cortex, plastic changes proved to be specific for the fingers frequently used and stimulated. These changes were not detected in the fingers of the hand that were not involved in playing the particular instrument. Neuroplastic alterations also may be driven into a domain where they may become maladaptive. The clinical syndrome of focal hand dystonia that may occur in musicians who engage in forceful practice may be one such consequence. We will discuss the possibilities of reversing maladaptive responses leading to the successful treatment of focal hand dystonia, which relies on basic research about cortical reorganization. This example elucidates how neuroscientific progress can guide the development of practice guidelines and therapeutic measures for the benefit of professional musicians.