Music training is associated with cortical synchronization reflected in EEG coherence during verbal memory encoding

PLoS One. 2017 Mar 30;12(3):e0174906. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0174906. eCollection 2017.


Music training can improve cognitive functions. Previous studies have shown that children and adults with music training demonstrate better verbal learning and memory performance than those without such training. Although prior studies have shown an association between music training and changes in the structural and functional organization of the brain, there is no concrete evidence of the underlying neural correlates of the verbal memory encoding phase involved in such enhanced memory performance. Therefore, we carried out an electroencephalography (EEG) study to investigate how music training was associated with brain activity during the verbal memory encoding phase. Sixty participants were recruited, 30 of whom had received music training for at least one year (the MT group) and 30 of whom had never received music training (the NMT group). The participants in the two groups were matched for age, education, gender distribution, and cognitive capability. Their verbal and visual memory functions were assessed using standardized neuropsychological tests and EEG was used to record their brain activity during the verbal memory encoding phase. Consistent with previous studies, the MT group demonstrated better verbal memory than the NMT group during both the learning and the delayed recall trials in the paper-and-pencil tests. The MT group also exhibited greater learning capacity during the learning trials. Compared with the NMT group, the MT group showed an increase in long-range left and right intrahemispheric EEG coherence in the theta frequency band during the verbal memory encoding phase. In addition, their event-related left intrahemispheric theta coherence was positively associated with subsequent verbal memory performance as measured by discrimination scores. These results suggest that music training may modulate the cortical synchronization of the neural networks involved in verbal memory formation.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cortical Synchronization / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Music Therapy
  • Music*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This study was supported by the Direct Grant for Research 2013-14 from The Chinese Unversity of Hong Kong (MC, 4052040) and the Central Research Grant from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University(DL, G-YBM1). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.