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Re: working memory and melody

Dear Bruno and List,
I noticed the same thing myself in college: listening to music did not interfere with math homework, but I could not read or write while listening to any type of music.  I believe that this is due to the necessary allocation of some of the same neural structures for both musical and linguistic processing. For instance, BA 44 or Broca's area is thought to be involved in "syntactic" processing of both music and language.

I've listed a few references below.  There are many more relevant papers out there, but these are some of the ones that first came to mind.


Besson M. and Schön D. (2001) Comparison between music and language.  Ann N Y
Acad Sci. 930: 232-258.

Koelsch S., Gunter T.C., v. Cramon Y., Zysset S., Lohmann G., and Friederici A.D.
(2002) Bach speaks: A cortical “language-network” serves the processing of music.  NeuroImage. 17: 956-966.

Maess B., Koelsch S., Gunter T.C., and Friederici A.D. (2001) Musical syntax is
processed in Broca’s area: an MEG study.  Nature Neuroscience. 4(5): 540-545.

Patel A.D., Gibson E., Ratner J., Besson M., and Holcomb P.J. (1998) Processing
syntactic relations in language and music: An event-related potential study.  Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 10(6): 717-733.


Robbin Miranda
Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience
Georgetown University
3900 Reservoir Rd., NW
Washington DC 20007
(202) 687-8449

----- Original Message -----
From: Bruno Repp <repp@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wednesday, May 24, 2006 10:17 am
Subject: Re: working memory and melody

> Dear list members:
> Somewhat related to the current discussion, but leading to a 
> separate 
> question, is an informal observation I have made over a number of 
> years. I am an avid music listener and listen to classical music 
> practically every morning and evening. Classical music requires 
> full 
> attention to be appreciated properly. However, because the 
> listening 
> takes up a lot of time, I have often tried to combine it with 
> other 
> activities. I soon found out that reading, even of the most 
> trivial 
> text, is totally disruptive. I feel I have not heard the music at 
> all 
> while I was reading-a very disheartening experience. Before the 
> advent of personal computers, I used to score data or draw graphs 
> while listening. That was less distracting but still interfered a 
> bit. Lately, I have become addicted to Sudoku. I find that solving 
> Sudoku puzzles does not really interfere with music listening at 
> all, 
> even though I frequently need to keep lists of up to five digits 
> in 
> verbal working memory.
> I would be interested to learn about any references to research 
> (or 
> any informal comments) that might address why reading interferes 
> so 
> strongly with music listening but Sudoku doesn't. Although there 
> is 
> some research on the effect of music on reading (though probably 
> not 
> on Sudoku), I am not aware of any research that investigated how 
> different secondary tasks interfere with music listening. One 
> problem 
> is surely to find an objective and quantifiable measure of how 
> effective the music listening was.
> Best,
> Bruno
> -- 
> Bruno H. Repp
> Haskins Laboratories
> 300 George Street
> New Haven, CT 06511-6624
> Tel. (203) 865-6163, ext. 236
> Fax (203) 865-8963
> http://www.haskins.yale.edu/staff/repp.html
> NOTE: I am at Rutgers University, Newark, two days per week,
> usually Tuesday and Wednesday or Friday, and don't read my
> Haskins e-mail on those days. To reach me at Rutgers, send
> e-mail to <repp@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>.