Evaluating the Impact of Music Video Games on Musical Skill Development:

Project Abstract

The proposed research consists of a one-year longitudinal evaluation of the impact of musical video games that specifically investigates the following questions:

  • Does game proficiency have a positive impact on musical skill development?
  • Does avid game play lead to the pursuit of other music making outlets?
  • Does interest and regular participation in the playing of music video games affect
    whether a student seeks additional formal music education?

For this study, the researchers will host several long- and short-term observation activities to observe gaming and music-learning behavior. These observation periods will select a demographically balanced groups of high school students with varying degrees of musical experience and training and varied proficiency with the targeted music games. Since music video games have not yet been subject to experimental observation over time, this project will initiate a novel and previously unaddressed area of research.
These activities are designed to complement an ongoing engineering research project that focuses on the development of interactive control devices allowing non-musicians to participate in music making. The ability to draw upon the funded research established in this corollary project allows for a minimization of costs associated with this study while providing the potential for more comprehensive and
informative results.

This one-year research project is supported by grant from the NAMM Foundation .

Research Premise and Hypothesis

The primary hypothesis driving this research is that regular practice and training with popular music video games, such as Guitar Hero, will demonstrate significant correlation with quantitatively improved musical performance skills. A secondary hypothesis is that significant interest in and increased exposure to existing music games results in greater interest and participation in formal music education and performance. For non-musician subjects this would be reflected by an increased desire to pursue music lessons or an improved technical appreciation of musical elements and structure. For musicians, we would expect to find an increased interest in studying music theory or additional instruments.

In recent years, a variety of video games have been developed based on the premise of simulated music play. These games, including the Guitar Hero series, Karaoke Revolution, Sing Star, and most recently Rock Band, are all essentially music follow-along activities where a player uses specialized game controllers, such as simplified toy guitars, drum pads, and microphones to follow along with popular music guided by a simplified scrolling music "score". These games have become extremely popular, and are indicative of a strong demand within society for some form of musical experience and expression.

At the same time, particularly in at-risk communities, true music education has been a lesser priority within the public school curriculum and in some areas has disappeared completely. For students within school districts that provide little or no funding for fine arts programs, music video games may represent the foremost form of musical interaction to which these students are exposed. Consequently, it is crucial to understand the impact and the potential for these music games to serve as a learning tool; ranging from the amount of interest they generate in making music and pursuing music education to their impact on actual musical skill development.

Subjects and Music Skill Assessments Used

As part of the longitudinal research, Principal Investigator Youngmoo E. Kim and Research Assistant Patrick Richardson
will test the music background, skills, and sensibilities of gamer and non-gamer participants in various focus-groups through 2008-2009. Focus groups include a gaming competition, volunteers from the the Drexel Summer Mentorship Program, and .

Musical skill development will be tracked for all participants with the following tests:

  • Abridged version of the Musical Aptitude Profile:
    • Reformatted (by us) and ported-to web as on-line assessment for rapid and scalable assessment.
    • Test to cover specific elements of music appreciation and (Western) musical aesthetic reasoning.
      • senses of pitch, rhythm, harmony and chroma
      • comparing melodies by memory
      • comparing rhythms by memory
  • Matlab GUI for M. Grassi's MLP toolbox (psychometric tests):
    • pitch discrimination
    • ordering of rapid tone sequences
    • tone duration discrimination
    • intonation of chromatic scales
  • Real-time Reading Notation Test (R3NT):
    • sight-reading single rhythms and melodies from hybrid music notations
    • sight-reading contrary rhythms in two different modes.
  • Recitation Recorded Aural Skills Assessment (R3ASA):
    • imitative memory for rhythms (tapped) and melodies (sung)
    • imitative interpretation of heard melodies onto keyboard

Summary of Observations

To date, this study has conducted two main observation session under a unified competition term. The first observation cycle was a set of case studies of Philadelphia-area high-school students (9 gamers, 3 controls) observed between pre-assessed (July 12-14 2008), and post-assessment (July 28th, 2008), with up to 3 gaming sessions per gamer per week for the interceding three weeks. These initial sessions and assessments are now completed with data analysis run upon these respective data sets (Note: the MLP psychometric assessments were deprecated form the latter Observation cycle, and excluded from further development or consideration in this study).
After some refinement of our methods and assessment instruments, we conducted our second observation cycle. Pre-assessment began September 25th, 2009. Gaming/observation proceeded for the following 8 weeks, with post-assessments concluding with the fall quarter (December 9th, 2009).

With the observation complete, prize-winners have been chosen among gamers, and control-group remuneration has been registered. We are very thankful for all the time and fun we had with the our first set of participants.


Our initial findings from our first (summer) participant sample were presented as a poster at the 2009 Society For Music Perception and Cognition (SMPC) conference at IUPUI. While the tools developed and data available from this cycle were critical for further refinement and expansion of this projects resources, this data set was not included in further analysis in this project.

Our second cycle of revision and observation produced our official pilot study, observing nine weeks of routine music game play, using University students (N=20 in gamer- and non-gamer cohorts) including pre- and post-assessments us- ing both quantitative tests and qualitative surveys of music education and gaming habits. Among this pilot sample’s initial results, quantitative data analysis suggests learning advantages among gamers over non-gamers only in visual tracking tasks of musical prompts, such as pseudo- notation cues similar to those in the games. Qualitative survey responses bolster the evidence of selective visual learning. With preliminary results warranting further study, we offer practical considerations for refinement of these methods within these or similar game-related music skill inquiries.

As of August, 2010, all development, observation, and review under our grant proposal to the NAMM Foundation havs been completed. A full review of the developments and findings of this study is presently in submission to the Journal of New Music Research entitled "Beyond Fun and Games: Evaluating the Impact of Music Video Games on Musical Skill Development."

Any further interest or questions about this project can be directed to research assistant Patrick Richardson.