Musicians' working memory for tones, words, and pseudowords

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Benassi-Werke, Mariana Elisa [UNIFESP]
Queiroz, Marcelo
Araujo, Ruben S.
Bueno, Orlando F. A. [UNIFESP]
Oliveira, Maria Gabriela Menezes de [UNIFESP]
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Studies investigating factors that influence tone recognition generally use recognition tests, whereas the majority of the studies on verbal material use self-generated responses in the form of serial recall tests. in the present study we intended to investigate whether tonal and verbal materials share the same cognitive mechanisms, by presenting an experimental instrument that evaluates short-term and working memories for tones, using self-generated sung responses that may be compared to verbal tests. This paradigm was designed according to the same structure of the forward and backward digit span tests, but using digits, pseudowords, and tones as stimuli. the profile of amateur singers and professional singers in these tests was compared in forward and backward digit, pseudoword, tone, and contour spans. in addition, an absolute pitch experimental group was included, in order to observe the possible use of verbal labels in tone memorization tasks. in general, we observed that musical schooling has a slight positive influence on the recall of tones, as opposed to verbal material, which is not influenced by musical schooling. Furthermore, the ability to reproduce melodic contours (up and down patterns) is generally higher than the ability to reproduce exact tone sequences. However, backward spans were lower than forward spans for all stimuli (digits, pseudowords, tones, contour). Curiously, backward spans were disproportionately lower for tones than for verbal material-that is, the requirement to recall sequences in backward rather than forward order seems to differentially affect tonal stimuli. This difference does not vary according to musical expertise.
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. Hove: Psychology Press, v. 65, n. 6, p. 1161-1171, 2012.