Tag Archives: Music

Does music or chess enhance cognitive skills?

27 Dec

The idea that playing chess and studying music improves cognition in other domains, such as math, is called far transfer. It is a very seductive idea with a strong intuitive appeal. “Teach the kids chess and it will improve their academic performance.”

A recent meta-analysis published in Current Directions of Psychological Science, casts doubt on this popular belief. The paper is both persuasive and well written and I encourage educators to read it. Here is the abstract:

Chess masters and expert musicians appear to be, on average, more intelligent than the general population. Some researchers have thus claimed that playing chess or learning music enhances children’s cognitive abilities and academic attainment. We here present two meta-analyses assessing the effect of chess and music instruction on children’s cognitive and academic skills. A third meta-analysis evaluated the effects of working memory training—a cognitive skill correlated with music and chess expertise—on the same variables. The results show small to moderate effects. However, the effect sizes are inversely related to the quality of the experimental design (e.g., presence of active control groups). This pattern of results casts serious doubts on the effectiveness of chess, music, and working memory training. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings; extend the debate to other types of training such as spatial training, brain training, and video games; and conclude that far transfer of learning rarely occurs.

In an era of scarce educational resources, teachers in fields like art and music often defend their place in the curriculum by using far transfer arguments. Music we are told will improve math scores. This research calls into question these kinds of claims.

Art and music belong in the curriculum because they are valuable in their own right. Not everything needs to justified by how it affects math scores.

Ravi Shankar – Woodstock 1969

13 Dec

Still grading papers, so enjoy this video of the great Ravi Shankar:

Why do some songs become earworms?

6 Feb

Earworms are those annoying songs that can’t get out of your head. A more technical name for this phenomenon is Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI).

A recent paper in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts investigates the common melodic features of earworms:

The results of the present work indicate that features of a song’s
melodic structure, as well as measures of its popularity and recency,
can be useful in predicting whether a song becomes INMI.
These findings contribute to the growing literature on the INMI
experience and serve to increase our general understanding of why
certain songs are spontaneously recalled in the mind over others.

In sum, tunes that become INMI tend to be faster in tempo than
non-INMI tunes. If the melodic contour shape of a melody is
highly congruent with established norms, then it is more likely for
the tune to become INMI. If the melodic contour does not conform
with norms, then it should have a highly unusual pattern of contour
rises and falls to become an INMI tune.

The paper includes this helpful list of the most common earworms:

(1) “Bad Romance,” Lady Gaga

(2) “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” Kylie Minogue

(3) “Don’t Stop Believing,” Journey

(4) “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye

(5) “Moves Like Jagger,” Maroon

(6) “California Gurls,” Katy Perry

(7) “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen

(8) “Alejandro,” Lady Gaga

(9) “Poker Face,” Lady Gaga

Rasta Dogs?

30 Jan

This story has received a lot of attention on the internet.

In a study conducted with the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, researchers at the University of Glasgow played six-hour Spotify playlists from five genres of music to shelter dogs. On one day, the dogs heard classical; on others they grooved to soft rock, reggae, pop and Motown. The researchers recorded the dogs’ heart rate variability, their cortisol levels and behaviors like barking and lying down — all measures of stress levels — as they listened to the tunes, as well as on days when no music was played.

I thought you might be interested in the article abstract:

Classical music has been shown to reduce stress in kennelled dogs; however, rapid habituation of dogs to this form of auditory enrichment has also been demonstrated. The current study investigated the physiological and behavioural response of kennelled dogs (n = 38) to medium-term (5 days) auditory enrichment with five different genres of music including Soft Rock, Motown, Pop, Reggae and Classical, to determine whether increasing the variety of auditory stimulation reduces the level of habituation to auditory enrichment. Dogs were found to spend significantly more time lying and significantly less time standing when music was played, regardless of genre. There was no observable effect of music on barking, however, dogs were significantly (z = 2.2, P < 0.05) more likely to bark following cessation of auditory enrichment. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) was significantly higher, indicative of decreased stress, when dogs were played Soft Rock and Reggae, with a lesser effect observed when Motown, Pop and Classical genres were played. Relative to the silent period prior to auditory enrichment, urinary cortisol:creatanine (UCCR) values were significantly higher during Soft Rock (t = 2.781, P < 0.01) and the second silent control period following auditory enrichment (t = 2.46, P < 0.05). Despite the mixed response to different genres, the physiological and behavioural changes observed remained constant over the 5d of enrichment suggesting that the effect of habituation may be reduced by increasing the variety of auditory enrichment provided.

I would be very interested in knowing the magnitude of the effect for different types of music (t scores and p values do not tell us the effect size, something could be statistically significant, but of such a small magnitude to have no practical importance). Unfortunately, I am not able to access the article itself.

A very happy holiday to everyone.

25 Dec

These guys are great:

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the Theremin

30 Sep

(Hat tip to BoingBoing)

Practice makes perfect?

17 Oct

I am interested in all kinds of learning projects and the observations made by the learners. I believe that all adults should have ambitious learning projects.

Here is a piece by Stephen Hough about learning the piano. One interesting observation:

“There is a well-worn saying: practice makes perfect. I don’t believe this, at least in reference to playing the piano: abstract ‘perfection’ is rarely what we seek; but good practicing makes it more likely that we will give a good performance. Its attention, its concentration, its tightening of the screws enable the concert experience to take wing in freedom.”

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