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Reading and working memory in adults with or without formal musical training: Musical and lexical tone


Psychology of Music

Published online on


Studies of working memory for musical tone are seldom reported, and verbal working memory experiments have not focused on the tonal aspects of a language such as Mandarin Chinese. We examined the relationships among musical experience, tonal language processing, and working memory in adult reading of musical notation and Mandarin Chinese. We hypothesized that 30 adults with formal musical training trained in translating print to sound in sight-reading would have an advantage over 30 adults without formal musical training in converting print to lexical tone in reading a tonal language. Using n-back reading tasks, we found that the adults with formal musical training were better able to extract lexical tone information from print than the adults without formal musical training, or to maintain it in working memory. Even in a Mandarin homophone task, requiring phonological judgments of print, adults with formal musical training demonstrated superior performance. We discuss possible reasons why musical experience facilitates processing of phonology and lexical tone in reading tasks.