A behavioral study on tonal working memory in musicians and non-musicians

Yue Ding, Kathleen Gray, Alexander Forrence, Xiaoqin Wang, Juan Huang

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2 Scopus citations


Tonal working memory (WM) refers to the maintenance and the online manipulation of tonal information and has been suggested to involve different mechanisms than verbal WM. Previous research has suggested that verbal WM performance is determined by the duration instead of the number of verbal materials. We investigated in the present study to what degree that the number and the duration of notes in a sequence influence the tonal WM in participants with or without professional musical training. The forward tonal discrimination task in Experiment 1 tested the maintenance of the tonal information and the backward N-back tonal task in Experiment 2 probed the running memory span of tonal information. Results show that the number of notes, but not the duration of notes in a tone sequence significantly affects tonal WM performance for both musicians and non-musicians. In addition, within a minimum musical context, musicians outperformed non-musicians in the N-back tonal task but not the forward tone sequence discrimination task. These findings indicate that the capacity of tonal WM is determined by the number of notes but not the duration of notes in a sequence to be memorized, suggesting a different mechanism underlying tonal WM from verbal WM. Furthermore, the present study demonstrated that N-back tonal task is a quantitative and sensitive measure of the effect of musical training on tonal WM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0201765
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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