Danish Researchers on Music and Memory


Does music affect memory? Danish researchers are testing a hypothesis that children with musical skills such as rhythm and melody also develop stronger memories.

School children aged 6-19 are guinea pigs for research assessing the effect good rhythm and melody skills can have

The project involves 30,000 school children at public school and gymnasium and is being conducted by the Centre for Music in the Brain at the University of Aarhus in conjunction with the Royal Academy of Music. Professor and neuroscientist Peter Vuust is the lead researcher.

Peter Vuust
Peter Vuust

“We developed this hypothesis following studies of very small groups of adults that showed that the ability to maintain and manage information was better among musicians than non-musicians,” Vuust told Videnskab.

There’s an app for that
The children in the study will train their musical abilities using an app. Pupils from 450 schools across Denmark are included in the mass experiment that started on Monday. It is one of the largest studies ever undertaken in Denmark.

“First, students will take a test that looks at the two most basic parts of musicality: rhythm and melody,” said Vuust. “Then there is a memory game that features combinations of numbers. We will see how many they can remember.”

The children will train their musical chops for two weeks, after which test number two will examine whether two weeks of musical training has changed anything.

Peter Vuust
Peter Vuust

From Green Day to calculus
Vuust said the experiment should not be viewed as an absolute guarantee that if a student is good at music they will also excel at maths, but that previous results did suggest that musical ability did correlate with a good working memory.

Along with the memory test, the experiment on the 30,000 children and adolescents will also collect data on their ages, gender, language abilities, musical habits and whether they play or sing.

“What I find most interesting is chatting about the musical landscapes to the different age groups for the first time ever,” said Vuust.

In December last year Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that neuroscientists at the university were able to identify a neural population highly selective for music … for the first time ever!

“The brain is a highly organized and complex organ that functions as the coordinating center of sensation and intellectual and nervous activity. Each area of the brain directly corresponds to a very specific function (emotions, movement, visual processing, memory, etc.), but, up until two days ago December 14), scientists were unable to decipher exactly which area of the brain corresponded to music perception.

Peter Vuust, jazz basist and Professor at Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus and associate Professor at Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Aarhus University

Peter is a unique combination of a world class musician and a top-level scientist. He plays and records with international jazz stars such as Lars Jansson, Tim Hagans, John Abercrombie and Jukkis Uotila, and appears on more than 85 records, 6 of these as band leader. Based on his distinguished music and research career, he was appointed Professor at RAMA in 2012. After graduating from AU in Mathematics, French and Music, he devoted ten years to playing music, before resuming an academic career in 2000. He wrote a book on polyrhythms in Miles Davis’ quintet that laid out the musicological framework for his PhD in neuroscience in 2006 concerning the neural processing of polyrhythms.

Danish Researchers on Music and Memory, compiled by Tor Kjolberg