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Does music training enhance

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Findings from a quasi-experimental
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Does music training enhance working memory performance? Findings from a

quasi-experimental longitudinal study
Ingo Roden, Dietmar Grube, Stephan Bongard and Gunter Kreutz
Psychology of Music 2014 42: 284 originally published online 18 March 2013
DOI: 10.1177/0305735612471239

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POM42210.1177/0305735612471239Psychology of MusicRoden et al.


Psychology of Music

Does music training enhance 2014, Vol. 42(2) 284298

The Author(s) 2013
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DOI: 10.1177/0305735612471239
Findings from a quasi-experimental pom.sagepub.com

longitudinal study

Ingo Roden
Department of Music, School of Linguistics and Cultural Studies, Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany

Dietmar Grube
Department of Education, School of Educational and Social Sciences, Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany

Stephan Bongard
Department of Psychology, Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany

Gunter Kreutz
Department of Music, School of Linguistics and Cultural Studies, Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany

Instrumental music training has been shown to enhance cognitive processing beyond general
intelligence. We examined this assumption with regard to working memory performance in
primary school-aged children (N = 50; 78 years of age) within a longitudinal study design. Half
of the children participated in an extended music education program with 45 minutes of weekly
instrumental music training, while the other half received extended natural science training.
Each child completed a computerized test battery three times over a period of 18 months. The
battery included seven subtests, which address the central executive, the phonological loop and
the visuospatial sketchpad components of Baddeleys working memory model. Socio-economic
background and basic cognitive functions were assessed for each participant and used as covariates
in subsequent analyses of variance (ANOVAs). Significant group by time interactions were found
for phonological loop and central executive subtests, indicating a superior developmental course in
children with music training compared to the control group. These results confirm previous findings
concerning music training and cognitive performance. It is suggested that children receiving music
training benefit specifically in those aspects of cognitive functioning that are strongly related to
auditory information processing.

Corresponding author:
Gunter Kreutz, Institute for Music, School of Linguistics and Cultural Studies, Carl von Ossietzky University
Oldenburg, 26111 Oldenburg, Germany.
Email: gunter.kreutz@uni-oldenburg.de

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Roden et al. 285

central executive, cognitive development, instrumental music training, phonological loop, visuospatial
sketchpad, working memory

Long-term influences of musical training on cognitive abilities have motivated a growing num-
ber of studies in the field of educational research (e.g., Schellenberg, 2011). While there is
evidence that music lessons can enhance cognitive performance even at the level of general
intelligence (Schellenberg, 2004, 2006, 2011), the majority of findings point to more specific
enhancement of cognitive processing in response to instrumental music training (Gardiner,
Fox, & Jeffrey, 1996; Ho, Cheung, & Chan, 2003; Kilgour, Jakobson, & Cuddy, 2000; Moreno
etal., 2011; Rickard, Vasquez, Murphy, & Toukhsati, 2010). For example, effects on cognitive
functions have been shown in speech and language processing (Butzlaff, 2000; Moreno etal.,
2009; Moreno, Bialystok, Schellenberg, Cepeda, & Chau, 2011), spatial (Brochard, Dufour, &
Desprs, 2004; Hetland, 2000) and mathematical reasoning (Cheek & Smith, 1999; Costa-
Giomi, 2004) as well as motor abilities (Jncke, Schlaug, & Steinmetz, 1997) and attention
(Scott, 1992; Strait, Kraus, Parbery-Clark, & Ashley, 2010).
Such specific enhancement of cognitive functions through music learning notwithstanding,
it appears likely that more general purpose cognitive mechanisms may mediate the observed
effects in these rather diverse investigations. In the present study we investigated the time
course of working memory development over a period of 18 months in groups of primary
school-aged children who either were receiving regular weekly instrumental music training or
were enrolled in classes with enhanced natural science training. Working memory lends itself
as a candidate cognitive system to be affected by music training for various reasons. For one, it
is a mental system responsible for temporary storage and simultaneous manipulation of infor-
mation from different sensory domains. It is involved in any kind of conscious mental process;
for example, in conducting complex cognitive tasks such as language comprehension, reason-
ing and problem solving (Baddeley, 1986; Baddeley & Hitch, 1974). Furthermore, the working
memory demand is particularly high in the standard music instruction setting, which involves
playing music from musical scores. In this scenario, kinesthetic, tactile, auditory and visual
cues are processed simultaneously, while parts of this information become mapped on to the
motor system in real time (Peretz & Zatorre, 2005).
Learning to play a musical instrument might influence aspects of working memory and
subsequently affect cognitive strategies (Schellenberg, 2011). This hypothesis is consistent
with evidence showing the influence of music training on different types of cognitive perfor-
mance (Gathercole, 1999; Schellenberg, 2011).
Models of working memory differ in structure and function (see, e.g., Cowan, 1995; Engle,
Cantor, & Carullo, 1992; Ericsson & Kintsch, 1995; MacDonald & Christiansen, 2002). The
componential model of working memory proposed by Baddeley and colleagues (Baddeley,
2006; Baddeley & Hitch, 1974) was chosen mainly for two reasons. First, the model has been
widely and successfully used in the context of educational research (for an overview see Henry,
2012), which is important also with respect to the targeted age groups in the present approach.
Second, there is strong empirical support for the existence of at least three relatively indepen-
dent components of the original working memory model, namely the phonological loop, the
central executive and the visuospatial sketchpad (Baddeley, 1986; Baddeley & Hitch, 1974).
The central executive marks the top of the hierarchy of working memory functions. It controls,
regulates and coordinates the flow of information between its subordinate components.

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286 Psychology of Music 42(2)

Therefore it is believed to comprise functions that are attributed to attention (Baddeley, 1986,
The phonological loop and the visuospatial sketchpad assist the central executive as slave- or
subsystems that mainly provide the storage of information. The phonological loop is responsible
for temporal storage of verbal and other auditory information (e.g., melodies; cf. Baddeley &
Logie, 1992; Logie & Edworthy, 1986). When sounds enter the phonological loop component, a
passive storage component holds information for about 1.5 to 2 seconds. A second component
called rehearsal is able to save this information from decay by repeatedly refreshing the con-
tents of the storage component. Whether a third component of the phonological loop exists for
the specific processing of musical that is, tonal information (Berz, 1995) is a subject of ongo-
ing debate (Peretz & Zatorre, 2005; Wilson & Saling, 2008). For example, there is evidence that
temporal or musical processing may be (at least partially) attributed to the phonological loop
component of working memory (Franssen, Vandierendonck, & Van Hiel, 2006; Grube, 1996).
The visuospatial sketchpad, by contrast, evokes special subsystems which differentially pro-
cess information about the shape, color or texture of an object or feature on the one hand (visual
cache), and information such as the location or movement in space (inner scribe) on the other.
The distinction between auditory and visual modalities in Baddeleys working memory
model ties in well with previous work on the possible differential influences of instrumental
music training on these modalities (Chan, Ho, & Cheung, 1998; Ho etal., 2003; Rickard etal.,
2010). However, the role of working memory in musically trained children has rarely been
directly evaluated in the past (e.g., Lee, Lu, & Ko, 2007). Instead, empirical studies have focused
on the relationship between working memory and music in young and old adults (Parbery-Clark,
Skoe, & Kraus, 2009; Parbery-Clark, Strait, Anderson, Hittner, & Kraus, 2011), language com-
prehension proficiency (Daneman & Merikle, 1996), mathematical problem solving (Adams &
Hitch, 1997) as well as following direction tasks (Engle, Carullo, & Collins, 1991).
Effects of instrumental training on cognitive performance have been based on individual
(e.g., Schellenberg, 2004), but in some cases also on group-based music training (e.g., Gardiner
etal., 1996; Rickard etal., 2010). Interestingly, some studies using group-based music inter-
ventions have revealed specific effects of music learning on phonological awareness (Deg &
Scharzer, 2011; Gromko, 2007) and auditory memory in preschoolers and secondary school-
ers (Deg, Wehrum, Stark, & Schwarzer, 2011) .
The present study was designed to investigate the influence of a classroom-based instrumen-
tal music training program on working memory performance in primary school children over
one-and-a-half school years at three time points. At each time point, seven measures assessing
the central executive, phonological loop, and visuospatial sketchpad were collected by a com-
puterized working memory battery (Hasselhorn et al., 2012). We examined the differential
effects of enhanced music education versus enhanced natural science education in groups of
children with respect to their working memory performance. Specifically, we hypothesized that
the former group would show significantly greater improvement in their capacities of those
components related to auditory compared to visual processing.

Materials and methods

Schools and participants
As medium effect sizes between instrumental music training and working memory abilities
were expected, a corresponding sample size scope was calculated with G*Power (Erdfelder, Faul

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Roden et al. 287

& Buchner, 1996). Results for a repeated measures ANOVA with a within-between subjects
design and an expected effect size of f = 0.25 showed that a total sample size of 44 partici-
pants was required to substantiate interaction effects in this study (-level: .05, power [1-]:
.95, correlations between repeated measures: .50). However, a total of 50 children (23 male,
27 female) participated. They were recruited from four primary schools located in different
parts of Germany. Twenty-five children (10 male, 15 female) participated in instrumental
music training programs (music group), and the remaining 25 children (13 male, 12 female)
took part in a natural science training program. The latter group served as a control group.
The study was approved by the institutional review boards of the universities of Frankfurt
and Oldenburg, Germany. Informed consent for participation in the current study was
obtained from school administrations, parents, and children. All schools participating in the
music program needed to belong to a specific catchment area previously marked by the pro-
gram administration.1 Furthermore, teachers from primary schools and music colleges were
trained to teach according to pre-defined program standards. The selection of participants in
the target group (music children) from several different cohorts ensured a wide distribution
of socio-economic background variables and a reduction of systematic influences at school
and class levels. Participating schools in the control group took part in a natural science
training program with the aim to improve the efficiency of mathematics and natural science
teaching in primary schools. Therefore math and general studies lessons at school were extended
by the implementation of educational standards consistently evaluated by a research
Varying n in statistical analyses arose in a few cases from missing data as well as from
attrition. However, attrition across groups and gender was small and uniform and thus did not
induce bias in the respective variables.

Children in the music group received weekly music lessons of 45 minutes on musical instru-
ments of their choice (guitar, violin, cello, flute, trumpet, keyboard and drums). Individual
practice time was collected from the children. However, this measure proved unreliable,
especially for children between 7 and 8 years of age. Therefore these data were not used in
subsequent analyses.
Parental responses indicated a certain amount of practice at home. Lessons were orga-
nized in different group sizes with a maximum of five, dependent on school-related
resources. Although there was variation in the specific teaching strategies between schools,
all children in the target group received basic skills training, which included singing,
rhythm (clapping and percussion) and some ear training (pitch and rhythm recognition)
from first grade on (children between 6 and 7 years of age). The instrumental instruction
was delivered from second to fourth grade (children between 7 and 10 years of age) by
professional teachers from public music schools. Therefore baseline measurement in the
present study included only children who attained at least second grade. Mean age of the
children was 7.54 years (SD = .65) at baseline, 8.44 years (SD = .61) at T2 and 9.04 years
(SD = .70) at T3.
Children in the comparison group received extended education in natural sciences. This pro-
gram enhanced the focus on mathematics and general studies as part of the school curriculum.
Children in the control group also received curriculum-based music lessons in school except

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288 Psychology of Music 42(2)

four children who had started to learn an instrument in private sessions during our study. Data
from these children were removed from the study.

Participants were evaluated in terms of intelligence quotient (IQ), socio-economic background
and musical background to determine any systematic differences in these variables prior to the
intervention. The German adaptation of Cattells Culture Free Intelligence Test (Cattell, 1961)
by Wei (2006) was administered to measure fluid intelligence using its four subtests: series,
classifications, matrices, and typologies. According to Wei (2006), these subtests correlate
highly with the g-factor of intelligence (r = .78 to .83). Results were assessed by raw means for
each of the four subtests and standardized IQ scores adapted for age (M = 100, SD = 15). Socio-
economic background was determined by variables related to parental education and income.
This information was acquired through questionnaires and telephone interviews with the par-
ents. Musical background was assessed particularly with respect to extra-curricular activities
including instrumental music training in the control group.
Seven subtests from a standardized and computerized working memory battery (Hasselhorn
etal., 2012) were used in this study. They were designed to assess phonological loop, visuospa-
tial sketchpad and central executive, according to Baddeleys working memory model. Retest
reliabilities of all seven subtests ranged from rtt = .49.74 for the 78-year-old children and
from rtt = .44.85 for the 910-year-old children.
Depending on the tasks, children were asked to answer by tapping on a touchscreen moni-
tor or by giving a verbal response. The starting sequence of each subtest depended on the age
of the subject. All subtests were based on an adaptive procedure with increasing (for two cor-
rectly reproduced items), decreasing (for two incorrectly reproduced items), or remaining
item length, except for the Nonword Recall Test in which 24 items were presented in a stan-
dardized trial. For all other subtests the procedure was repeated until the last of the 10
sequences was finished.

Visuospatial sketchpad measures

Corsi Block Test. This task represents the participants ability to remember series of spatial
locations presented in sequences of different lengths. In the first subtest of the visuospatial
sketchpad, children were asked to memorize and reproduce the path of a painted face (smiley)
that moves randomly through an array of nine squares depicted on the computer screen. If
the reproduction was correct for two trials, the movement of the smiley was increased by one
step (up to the maximum of nine) and the path between the smiley movements from square
to square would get longer than before. If the recall failed for two trials the movement was
decreased by one (down to the minimum of two).
Matrix Span. The participants score in the Matrix Span Test reflects the memory for visual
details without spatial change in the information. This subtest displayed a pattern on a small
chessboard with 16 fields, which disappears after four seconds. Afterwards children were
asked to tag the remembered pattern on the touchscreen. The adaptive mechanism follows the
procedure described above.

Phonological loop measures

One-Syllable Word Span Test. This subtest characterizes the phonological store capacity by
measuring the largest number of words that can be immediately recalled in the correct order

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Roden et al. 289

consistently. Therefore several sequences of the One-Syllable Word Span Test were aurally
presented by a computer with external speakers. Children were asked to recall and to name the
words in the correct chronological order directly after hearing the last word of the sequence.
If the recall was right for two trials, the number of words in a sequence was increased by one
(up to the maximum of nine words). If the recall failed for two trials, the number of words was
decreased by one (down to the minimum of two words).
Nonword Recall Test.This subtest measures how accurately a participant can store
unfamiliar sound sequences through the articulatory rehearsal mechanism. During the task,
24 three- to five-syllable nonwords (e.g. praulaskon, fradorlucke or grappenfegalit) were
aurally presented by a computer with external speakers. A few nonwords were modulated
using a distortion effect. After the presentation of each word children were requested to
reproduce the word as accurately as possible. In contrast to the other subtests, the Nonword
Recall Test has no adaptive test design and is therefore not affected by correct or incorrect
answers. The testing procedure was repeated after all 24 nonwords had been presented and

Central executive measures

Counting Span Test. This test belongs to the Complex Span Tasks. All of these tasks have
the same basic requirements: a remembering and a processing component. The Counting
Span Test is characterized by an increasingly large sequence of images with circles and squares
randomly presented on the screen. Children were asked to reproduce the number count of
memorized circles only. At the end of the sequence children were encouraged to repeat all
memorized single outcomes in the right order. The adaptive mechanism follows the procedure
described above.
Complex Span Test. Just like the Counting Span, the Complex Span Test required
a combination of storing and processing information at the same time. The subtest
consists of sequences of eight different images shown on the screen. The images used
were an apple, a ball, a candle, a candy, a piece of cheese, a dice, a key, and a pretzel.
Children were asked to say whether that item on the picture was edible or not; that is,
answering either yes or no. At the end of the sequence children were requested to
reproduce the correct order of items. The adaptive mechanism follows the procedure
described above.
Color Span Backwards Test.In this task children were required to repeat an increasing
sequence of circles with different colors in the reverse order of their appearance. Again, the
adaptive mechanism follows the procedure described above.
Finally, questionnaires gathering basic demographic information from children and parents
were administered.

Children were tested individually in their classrooms over the course of one-and-a-half
hours. Assistants who were trained in administrating the computerized test battery ran the
data collection. The test battery was embedded in a larger research protocol which contained
an IQ test as well as standardized questionnaires. The order of the seven working memory
subtests was equal at all three time points and for each child. The IQ test and the standardized
questionnaires were compiled on a different day prior to the working memory tests. Breaks
were set individually, depending on the childrens needs.

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290 Psychology of Music 42(2)

The interventions first started at the beginning of the school year (October 2009), continued
at the beginning of the following school year (October 2010) with a final measurement at the
end of that school year (July 2011).

Table 1 quantifies the independent measures at baseline for the standardized IQ scores
adapted for age (M = 100, SD = 15) from the Culture Fair Test (CFT; Wei, 2006), socio-
economic status (parental income, cultural capital, educational achievement for father
and mother) and the age for both experimental groups. With respect to the standardized IQ
score, groups differed significantly, t (48) = 3.48, p < .001, d = .98. Music children (M =
115.72, SD = 12.05) scored significantly higher on average than children in the compari-
son group (M = 103.20, SD = 13.35). Both groups were similar at baseline in terms of
parental income, t (30) = 1.05, p = .301; cultural capital, t (38) = 0.05, p = .96; and
educational achievement: father: t (25.4) = .98, p = .34; mother: t (33) = 1.42, p = .16.
There was a significant difference in mean age between the groups at the beginning of the
study, t (48) = 2.03, p < .05, d = .57. Children assigned to the natural science group (mean age
= 7.72 years, SD = 0.68) were older than children allocated to the music group (mean age= 7.36
years, SD = 0.57).
Table 2 summarizes the means and standard deviations for the seven working memory
Data were analyzed using repeated measures analyses of variance (ANOVA), which were
performed at three dependent time points in this study. The quasi-experimental design was a
mixed model, with group as the between-subjects factor and time as the within-subjects factor.
Within this model, age and IQ were included as covariates. Preconditions for conducting
ANOVAs were tested (normality, Boxs M test of equality of covariance matrices, Mauchlys test
of sphericity) and were met in all cases except the following. Mauchlys test of sphericity was
significant for the One-Syllable Word Span Test and for the Complex Span. Therefore in the
respective analyses the Huynh-Feldt correction for p-values and degrees of freedom was used to
calculate F-values.
Analyses for the visuospatial sketchpad measures (Corsi Block Test and Matrix Span Test)
revealed a significant main effect of group on the Corsi Block Test, F(1,46) = 8.28, p < .05,

Table 1. Means (and SD) of measures of standardized IQ score adapted for age (CFT, four subscales),
socio-economic variables and age of children at baseline.

Music Natural sciences

M (SD) M (SD) df t-value d

IQ 115.72 (12.05) 103.20 (13.35) 48 3.48** .98
Age 7.36 (.57) 7.72 (.68) 48 2.03* .57
Cultural capital 3.17 (.99) 3.18 (.96) 38 .05
Parental income 2.63 (1.59) 2.06 (1.44) 30 1.05
Educational achievement (f) 2.93 (.26) 2.73 (.94) 25.4 .98
Educational achievement (m) 2.71 (.73) 2.29 (.96) 33 1.42
*p < .05; **p < .001; (m) = mothers educational achievement, (f) = fathers educational achievement.

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Roden et al. 291

Table 2. Means (and SD) of working memory assessment data for music and natural science groups at
three time points (T1T3).

Measures Music (n = 25) Natural sciences (n = 25)

T1 T2 T3 T1 T2 T3
Visuospatial sketch pad
Corsi Block 3.87 (.55) 3.85 (.83) 4.57 (.70) 4.26 (.83) 4.25 (.68) 4.57 (.78)
Matrix Span 4.17 (.84) 4.70 (1.10) 5.00 (.98) 4.35 (1.13) 4.77 (1.10) 4.82 (1.45)
Phonological loop
Nonword Recall 16.24 (2.86) 18.68 (3.01) 20.04 (2.54) 14.20 (3.54) 15.84 (3.58) 14.36 (3.53)
One-Syllable 3.80 (.56) 4.21 (.57) 4.65 (.68) 3.79 (.48) 3.85 (.44) 3.80 (.71)
Word Span
Central executive
Counting Span 3.03 (.56) 3.57 (.70) 3.85 (.66) 3.13 (.74) 3.44 (.63) 3.42 (.60)
Color Span 2.85 (.81) 3.30 (.96) 3.63 (.82) 2.82 (.81) 3.13 (.75) 3.19 (.62)
Complex Span 3.08 (.46) 3.45 (.54) 3.89 (.79) 3.07 (.62) 3.27 (.70) 2.99 (.57)

partial p = .15, with natural science children scoring higher than music children. No main
effect was found for the Matrix Span Test and no significant interaction effects were found for
either the Corsi Block Test or the Matrix Span Test (all Fs 2.73 p .07)
A significant group time interaction was found for the One-Syllable Word Span Test,
F(1.81,83.33) = 12.68, p < .001, partial p = .22. Subsequent comparison of means indicated
no significant differences between groups at baseline. Moreover, the children in the music group
showed significant increases in their One-Syllable Word Span Test scores from T1 to T2, t (24) =
4.23, p < .001, d = 0.85, and from T2 to T3, t (24) = 5.37 p < .001, d = 1.11. No such increases
were found for the control group, t (24) = 0.72, p = 0.48, nonsignificant (ns) and t (24) = 0.41,
p = 0.69, ns. With respect to the Nonword Recall Test a main effect of group was noted, F(1,46)
= 19.43, p < .001, partial p = .30. Subsequent comparison of means indicated significant
group differences at baseline, t (48) = 2.24, p < .05; T2, t (48) = 3.04, p < .05; and T3, t (48) =
6.53 p < .001 in favor of the music group children. Analyses also indicated a significant group
time interaction, F(2,92) = 3.42, p < .05, p = .07. Music children showed significant
increases in their Nonword Recall Test scores from T1 to T2, t (24) = 3.62, p = .001, d = 0.73,
and from T2 to T3, t (24) = 2.15, p < .05, d = 0.43. Increases were also found in the control
group from T1 to T2, t (24) = 2.28, p < .05, d = 0.46, but not from T2 to T3, t (24) = 2.01, ns.
The final set of analyses addressed the subtests assessing the central executive component.
With respect to the Counting Span Test, a significant group time interaction was found,
F(2,92) = 4.91, p < .05, p= .10, but no main effects. Both groups showed significant increases
in their performances on this test from baseline to T2: music group: t (24) = 3.35, p = .003, d =
0.68; natural science group: t (24) = 2.65, p = .01, d = 0.53. However, only the children in the
music group showed significant increases in their performance in this test from T1 to T3, t (24)
= 6.63, p < .001, d = 1.33; the children in the natural science group did not, t (24) = 1.93, p =
.07, ns. Analyses of the Color Span Backwards Test showed no significant interactions (all
Fs[2,92] 3.57; p .065) or main effects (F[1,46] .61; p >.81). The Complex Span Test
revealed a significant group time interaction, F(1.73, 79.33) = 6.35, p < .05, p = .12, as
well as a main effect of group, F(1,46) = 4.22, p < .05, p = .08. Subsequent comparison of
means indicated no significant difference between the groups at baseline and T2. However, the

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292 Psychology of Music 42(2)

A Music Natural science

B Music Natural science
4.80 21
4.60 20

4.40 19
Mean scores

Mean scores
3.80 15
3.60 14
3.40 13
T1 T2 T3 T1 T2 T3
Time points Time points

Figure 1. Mean scores of the One-syllable Word Span (A) and the Nonword Recall Test (B) for the two
experimental groups (N = 50) at baseline (T1), after 1 year (T2) and after 1.5 years (T3) of music or natural
science tuition.
Note: error flags indicate standard errors of means (SEM).

music group children significantly outperformed the comparison group at T3, t (48) =
4.62, p < .001. Moreover, children in the music group showed significant increases in their
performance of this test from T1 to T2, t (24) = 4.05, p < .001, d = .82, and also from T2 to T3,
t (24) = 2.79, p < .05, d = .58. No such increases were observed for the control group, t (24) =
1.78, p = .09, ns, and t (24) = 1.68, p = 0.11, ns.
Figure 1 depicts the group time interaction for the One-Syllable Word Span Test and the
Nonword Recall Test. Over one-and-a-half years, the music group scored higher in these tests
thought to involve the phonological loop.
Figure 2 shows the group time interaction patterns for the Counting Span Test and the
Complex Span Test. Children in the music group showed greater improvements in these two
subtests, which are thought to reflect working memory operations of the central executive. No
significant differences were found in relation to those tests, which are thought to involve the
visuospatial sketchpad (Figure 3).
To further explore the relationship between phonological loop and central executive mea-
sures, we calculated Pearson correlations between the scores of the relative subtests for T1 and
T3. We found a significant positive correlation between the One-Syllable Word Span Test and
the Complex Span Test only in the music group (r = .49, p < .05 for T1; r = .51, p < .001 for T3)
just as between the One-Syllable Word Span Test and the Counting Span Test (r = .46, p = < .05
for T1; r = .54, p = < .001 for T3). Moreover, the correlations between the Nonword Recall Test
and the Counting Span Test were significantly positive again for only the music group (r = .53,
p < .001 for T1; r = .48, p < .05 for T3). Association between the Nonword Recall Test and the
complex span showed a significant positive correlation at T3 (r = .58, p < .001) solely in the
music group. To test the assumption that visual information might be transferred into phono-
logical code, the means of the two phonological loop subtests (One Syllable Word Span and
Nonword Recall Test) were entered as covariates into the repeated measures analyses of vari-
ance for the Counting Span Test and the Complex Span Test. As expected, the group time
interactions were no longer significant: Counting Span Test: F(2,88) = 1.81, p = .17 ns; Complex
Span Test: F(1.77,77.76) = 3,13, p = .06 ns.

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Roden et al. 293

A Music Natural science B Music Natural science

Mean scores

Mean scores
3.2 3.1

3 2.9
2.8 2.7
2.6 2.5
T1 T2 T3 T1 T2 T3
Time points
Time points
C Music Natural science


Mean scores




T1 T2 T3
Time points

Figure 2. Mean scores of the Counting Span (A), Color Span Backwards (B) and Complex Span (C) for
the two experimental groups (N = 50) at baseline (T1), after 1 year (T2) and after 1.5 years (T3) of music
or natural science tuition.
Note: error flags indicate standard errors of means (SEM).

A Music Natural science B Music Natural science

4.5 5
Mean scores
Mean scores

4.3 4.8
4.1 4.6
3.9 4.4
3.7 4.2
3.5 4
T1 T2 T3 T1 T2 T3
Time points Time points

Figure 3. Mean scores of the Corsi Block Test (A; N = 50) and the Matrix Span (B; N = 49) for the
two experimental groups at baseline (T1), after 1 year (T2) and after 1.5 years (T3) of music or natural
science tuition.
Note: error flags indicate standard errors of means (SEM).

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294 Psychology of Music 42(2)

This study was designed to show the effects of music training on the development of working
memory skills in primary school children. It was hypothesized that the music children would
outperform a comparison group of children receiving enhanced natural science training over
a period of one-and-a-half years in cognitive capacities that are related to auditory processing.
Consequently, these advantages should occur primarily in the phonological loop, and to a
lesser degree in the central executive and visuospatial components. These assumptions were
confirmed according to the present findings.
First of all, children receiving music training scored significantly higher than control
group children in tests which address the phonological loop components. Specifically, music
children showed significant increases in the One-Syllable Word Span Test scores over all time
points (from T1 to T2 and from T2 to T3), while the comparison group showed no such
improvement. The most likely interpretation of this finding is that children in the music
group developed particularly efficient articulatory rehearsal strategies which are crucial to
perform this test successfully. In addition, music children displayed a continuous improve-
ment in the Nonword Recall Test, which is thought to tap into the storage component of the
phonological loop. Natural science children only showed improvement in the first phase of
the study, but no further increases of their performances thereafter. Taken together, these
findings suggest that music children benefitted from instrumental music training in terms of
rehearsing and storing phonological information. Specifically, music group children showed
an increase of 17% in the rehearsing and 15% in the storing of phonological information.
Subtests addressing the visuospatial sketchpad (Corsi Block Test and Matrix Span) elicited no
significant effects for the two groups of children, with one exception: a main effect of groups
emerged for the Corsi Block Test, which suggests higher visual memory skills in natural science
children compared to music children. Nevertheless, mean values between groups failed to
reach significance levels.
Finally, the present data suggest an advantageous effect of music training on the central
executive (Counting Span Test and Complex Span Test) in the underlying working memory
model. This finding corroborates a previous study on the enhancing effect of executive func-
tion for instrumental music training, which was associated with changes in brain plasticity
(Moreno etal., 2011). Children in this study were younger (46 years of age) than in the
present study and received the music intervention for only 20 days. However, the authors
also noted a significant effect on verbal (but not general) intelligence as a result of the music
training, while visual arts training had no such effect. Perhaps these converging findings
may represent behavioral correlates of recent neurophysiological studies which suggest that
linguistic and nonlinguistic auditory information are processed in similar brain structures
(Koelsch etal., 2002). In particular, core structures of working memory, including Brocas
area, premotor cortex, pre-SMA/SMA, left insular cortex, and inferior parietal lobe are shared
for linguistic and tonal information (Koelsch etal., 2002).
Note that such neuroplastic effects of musical training are not necessarily associated with
young age, but could well be evoked across the life span. For example, Bugos, Perlstein, McCrae,
Brophy, & Bedenbaugh (2007) showed that individualized piano instruction led to enhanced
executive functioning abilities in adults between 60 and 85 years of age on the Digit Symbol-
Coding subtest of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-III; Wechsler, 1997) and the
Trail Making Test. In a study by Bialystok & Pape (2009), musically trained adults significantly
outperformed a group of untrained adults between 18 and 35 years of age in measures consid-
ering executive function that included conflicting information between the target cue and its

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Roden et al. 295

position (Simon task) or involving auditory and linguistic conflicts between a word and its pitch
in a Stroop task. However, available evidence linking music training with executive function is
still ambiguous (see Schellenberg, 2011).
Developmental research suggests that children from the age of 7 years show lip movements
during memory tasks. Such movements indicate the use of subvocal rehearsal strategies. Some
authors argue that even visually presented tasks could be linked directly to phonological loop
abilities by recoding of visual as auditory information (Gathercole, 1998; Howard & Franklin,
1990). This process takes place in the articulatory rehearsal mechanism of the phonological
loop and it is known by phonological/verbal recoding (Henry, 2012). Hence visually presented
information (like the images used in the Counting Span Test and Complex Span Test) can be
converted into speech or auditory information to gain access to the phonological store. Thus
enhanced coding strategies could explain both the differences reported in this study between
the two groups of children as well as the greater improvements in these tasks for the music
group compared to the control group.
In our study, this assumption was tested by taking the means of the two phonological loop
subtests (One-Syllable Word Span and Nonword Recall Test) as covariates in the repeated mea-
sures analyses of variance for the central executive subtests (Counting Span Test and Complex
Span Test). As expected, the significant interaction term disappeared in the analyses for both of
these tests. Additional neuropsychological support from lesion and neuroimaging studies
showed that the auditory cognitive system must allow stimuli to be maintained and to be able
to relate one element in a sequence that appears later. These working memory mechanisms
could apply broadly in many types of processes, where different subsystems of working mem-
ory are involved (for an overview see Peretz & Zattore, 2005). Therefore music training could
have a beneficial effect on central executive abilities. However, further research will be neces-
sary to clarify the conditions under which music training might affect executive functions in
music and nonmusic groups.
Considering the high effect sizes of all interactions in the present study, these results sug-
gest some validation of a transfer effect from music to more specific cognitive domains
including the phonological loop and the central executive components of working memory.
Nevertheless, this interpretation must be treated with caution, which is mainly due to the
quasi-experimental design of the current study. Randomized controlled trials might produce
even more persuasive evidence in this matter, but may be difficult to implement in school
Taken together, working memory effects of music training are restricted to components
which deal more directly with auditory materials. Therefore transfer of cognitive skills from the
musical domain is most prominent with respect to the phonological loop. These findings are
consistent with previous quasi-experimental research (Deg & Schwarzer, 2011; Lee et al.,
2007). The current data corroborate and extend these findings. To our knowledge they are the
first to show that specific components of primary school childrens auditory working memory
can be significantly improved by a music training program over the time course of one-and-a-
half years.

We would like to thank the students and teachers who supported this study over the whole period of
this investigation. We are grateful to Janani Dhinakaran and Andrea Halpern for proof-reading
the manuscript. G.K, S.B. and D. G. initiated the research; I.R. designed and performed the research;
I. R. and S. B. analyzed the data; I. R. and G. K. wrote the paper.

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296 Psychology of Music 42(2)

This study was supported by a grant from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, which
was awarded to the third and fourth authors (No.01KJ0807).

1. The musical training program is guided by a foundation called Jedem Kind ein Instrument (JeKi)
[An Instrument for Every Child]. For further information, please visit www.jedemkind.de.

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