Music training and working memory: an ERP study

Neuropsychologia. 2011 Apr;49(5):1083-1094. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.02.001. Epub 2011 Feb 17.


While previous research has suggested that music training is associated with improvements in various cognitive and linguistic skills, the mechanisms mediating or underlying these associations are mostly unknown. Here, we addressed the hypothesis that previous music training is related to improved working memory. Using event-related potentials (ERPs) and a standardized test of working memory, we investigated both neural and behavioral aspects of working memory in college-aged, non-professional musicians and non-musicians. Behaviorally, musicians outperformed non-musicians on standardized subtests of visual, phonological, and executive memory. ERPs were recorded in standard auditory and visual oddball paradigms (participants responded to infrequent deviant stimuli embedded in lists of standard stimuli). Electrophysiologically, musicians demonstrated faster updating of working memory (shorter latency P300s) in both the auditory and visual domains and musicians allocated more neural resources to auditory stimuli (larger amplitude P300), showing increased sensitivity to the auditory standard/deviant difference and less effortful updating of auditory working memory. These findings demonstrate that long-term music training is related to improvements in working memory, in both the auditory and visual domains and in terms of both behavioral and ERP measures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Music*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reference Values
  • Young Adult