Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1060: 262–264 (2005). © 2005 New York Academy of Sciences.
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;
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.
263COSTA-GIOMI: MUSIC INSTRUCTION AND FINE MOTOR ABILITIES
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
264 ANNALS NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
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