A new study that examined how the brain learns and retains motor skills provides insight into musical skill.
Performance of a musical task improved among pianists whose practice of a new melody was followed by a night of sleep, says researcher Sarah E. Allen, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.
The study is among the first to look at whether sleep enhances the learning process for musicians practicing a new piano melody.
The study found, however, that when two similar melodies were practiced one after the other, followed by sleep, any gains in speed and accuracy achieved during practice diminished overnight, said Allen, an assistant professor of music education in SMU's Meadows School of the Arts.
"The goal is to understand how the brain decides what to keep, what to discard, what to enhance, because our brains are receiving such a rich data stream and we don't have room for everything," Allen said. "I was fascinated to study this because as musicians we practice melodies in juxtaposition with one another all the time."
Surprisingly, in a third result the study found that when two similar musical pieces were practiced one after the other, followed by practice of the first melody again, a night's sleep enhanced pianists' skills on the first melody, she said.
"The really unexpected result that I found was that for those subjects who learned the two melodies, if before they left practice they played the first melody again, it seemed to reactivate that memory so that they did improve overnight. Replaying it seemed to counteract the interference of learning a second melody."
The study adds to a body of research in recent decades that has found the brain keeps processing the learning of a new motor skill even after active training has stopped. That's also the case during sleep.
The findings may in the future guide the teaching of music, Allen said.
"In any task we want to maximize o
|Contact: Margaret Allen|
Southern Methodist University