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Playing music could improve your memory

Researchers from The Centre for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University are readying an analysis that will, for the first time, uncover how music affects memory. The data comes from 30,000 school pupils, who all had their musical listening skills and then their memory tested during last week’s Science Week.

Do people who play, sing or listen to a lot of music, have a better working memory than people for whom music is an unimportant part of everyday life?

The signs are that they do. This is why a new national study aims to uncover how children's and young people's ability to hear small variations in rhythms and melodies is connected to their ability to retain and process other types of information. The study of music's effect on the brain has been developed by researchers at The Centre for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University/The Royal Academy of Music, and is being headed by Professor Peter Vuust:

"We think that it will often be the case that if you are good at distinguishing tones, rhythms and harmonies, you will also have good skills in other areas. The study will provide us with an answer to the question of whether there is such a connection between listening skills and parts of the memory,” says Peter Vuust.

No less than 30,000 school pupils and upper secondary school students last week participated in the initial data collection, which is designed as a self-test in the form of a computer-based music quiz. Here the participants have their ability to hear small rhythmical and melodic differences tested. After this, they have been asked to remember combinations of up to eight figure numbers.

Ahead lies the data processing that will correlate the collected results of the tests with the background information on the participating children and young people. This information no only includes gender, age and geography, but also information about whether they play music or sing, and how much music they listen to on a daily basis. According to Peter Vuust, the answers can provide a picture of whether, for example, 'just' listening to music leads to the same competences as being an active musician. The question is interesting because music is already a large part of the children’s and young people's everyday lives. Danish studies show that 70 per cent of children in Denmark listen to music on a daily basis, and that 20 per cent of them listen for more than an hour every day.

An additional aspect of the design involves some of the participants training their musical skills by using an app, before subsequently taking new musical and memory tests. The app contains five different games which train the ability to listen.

"This means the study can also shed light on whether it is possible to learn to remember better by training musical skills. If this is the case, then music could be the way to better learning in the schools," says Peter Vuust.

The national study, which is also called The Mass Experiment 2016, is part of the national Science Week, which is held every year at the end of September by Astra – The National Centre for Learning in Science, Technology and Health in Denmark. The concept is to annually develop a new school experiment in collaboration with one or more research institutions, with the aim of shedding light on a selected topic within science, technology or health. This year’s theme was “The Heart and the Brain”.

The 30,000 school pupils and upper secondary school students who take part come from 450 schools throughout Denmark. Peter Vuust expects that some of the results of the study will already be published in November this year.

More about the study:

  • The Mass Experiment is Denmark's largest recurring school experiment and is part of the Science Week, which always takes place at the end of September.
  • Both The Science Week and The Mass Experiment are sponsored by The Danish Industry Foundation.
  • The current study is what is known as a behavioural study.
  • The 30,000 participants come from all year groups in the Danish school system, from the youngest children in primary school up to students taking the final year of upper secondary education.

Further information:

Requests for additional information on the research should be made to Peter Vuust, Centre for Music in the Brain, Department of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University.
Direct tel.: (+45) 7846 1617
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