Benefits of a Classroom Based Instrumental Music Program on Verbal Memory of Primary School Children: A Longitudinal Study

By Rickard, Nikki S.; Vasquez, Jorge T. et al. | Australian Journal of Music Education, January 2010 | Go to article overview

Benefits of a Classroom Based Instrumental Music Program on Verbal Memory of Primary School Children: A Longitudinal Study


Rickard, Nikki S., Vasquez, Jorge T., Murphy, Fintan, Gill, Anneliese, Toukhsati, Samia R., Australian Journal of Music Education


Introduction

Musicians have been found to demonstrate enhanced cognitive and psychosocial functioning when compared with non-musicians, demonstrating superior verbal memory ability (Chan, Ho, & Cheung, 1998; Costa-Giomi, 2004; Ho, Cheung, & Chan, 2003; Kilgour et al., 2000; Jakobson, Kilgour & Cuddy, 2003), pitch processing skills (Pantev et al., 1998), temporal processing skills (Jacobson et al., 2003), and self-esteem (Hietolahti-Ansten & Kalliopuska, 1990). Some of the most convincing evidence for the non-musical benefits of music training has been obtained in studies of verbal memory. The construct of verbal memory consists of acquisition (or learning), immediate recall and delayed recall of verbal or auditory information. Adults with extensive formal music training (up to 15 years) and musicians (with at least 14 years of training) have shown significantly better verbal recall than non-musicians across a variety of measures of verbal ability including word lists, unfamiliar song lyrics (spoken and sung), and vocabulary subtests from aptitude, memory or IQ tests (Brandler & Rammsayer, 2003; Chan, Ho, & Cheung, 1998; Jakobson, Kilgour & Cuddy, 2003; Kilgour, Jakobson, & Cuddy, 2000). Similar effects have been observed in children. Ho, Chan and Cheung (2003) compared children (aged between 6-15 years) who were currently learning an instrument (for a period of 1-5 years) with classmates who had no musical training. The children receiving the music training recalled approximately 20% more words from a 16 word list presented three times than their classmates without music training. They also showed better verbal retention ability across two delayed recognition trials. No benefit was observed in visual memory performance, which was argued to be due to its right temporal lobe localization.

In a follow up longitudinal study one year later, Ho et al. (2003) compared children (from the original cohort) who had since begun or continued their music training for one year with those that had discontinued their music studies at least 9 months prior. Both the beginners and continuing group showed significant improvement in their verbal learning and retention scores whereas there was no change for those that had discontinued their musical training. Interestingly, although the discontinued group did not improve their verbal memory performance, they maintained the verbal memory superiority over non-musicians, implying that the benefits of playing an instrument may be long lasting. Consistent with the previous findings, there was again an absence of significant effects of music training on visual memory. While this study was quasi-experimental in that students had already self-selected into music or non-music training classes at the start of the study, inferences about causality are strengthened by demonstration that the groups were similar on measures of age, educational level, IQ, and parental educational level and income. Similarly, while conclusions from correlational evidence linking musical training and enhanced cognitive or neurophysiological functioning must be drawn with caution, a strong relationship between such measures and years of musical training provide a convincing argument against differences being pre-existing (Munte, Altenmuller & Jancke, 2002). Superiority in verbal memory in musicians appears also to be associated with the number of years of formal music training (Ho et al., 2003; Jakobson et al., 2003), which implies that musical training underlies the improvement in verbal memory. It is notable, however, that even relatively short periods of engagement with music can have positive effects on cognitive abilities. Young children receiving Suzuki violin lessons demonstrated enhanced general memory and responsiveness to musical sounds after one year of instruction when compared to children who were not having music lessons outside of school. These benefits were noticeable after just four months (Fujioka, Ross, Kakigi, Pantev & Trainor, 2006). …

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