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Music Training May Boost Memory

November 12, 1998

Musical training may supply a sound method for improving verbal memory.

Confirming what many music teachers have long believed, psychologists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have found a 16 percent better word memory on average for adults who learned how to play a musical instrument as children.

The findings were reported today in the journal Nature.

``It has such huge implications for education,″ said Frances Rauscher, a psychologist who works on the cognitive effects of musical training at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.

The study involved 30 college students with at least six years of musical instruction before age 12 and 30 students with no such training. The former music students were found to be better at recalling words read to them from a list.

However, they were no better at remembering and drawing simple designs from memory.

Researchers noted that the left planum temporale region of the brain, behind the left ear, is known to be larger in musicians. That part of the brain also handles verbal memory.

The Hong Kong psychologists suggested that music training may be an entertaining and useful way of improving verbal memory in children.

Rauscher said the research fits into a growing body of work suggesting that music training cements some neural pathways in the brain, preparing it for other tasks, too.

But she added that researchers should supply the music training themselves to be sure it is the same for all, and they should also test groups with equal IQs and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Richard Provost, who teaches classical guitar at the University of Hartford, said educators have begun looking upon such research as justification for music programs. Provost believes that music can enhance some intellectual skills, including verbal ability.

``To play a musical instrument well, you have to be able to recognize musical symbols in relationship to groups,″ he said. ``You develop a sensitivity to grouping that would relate to letters forming words.″

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