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The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology


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Musicians' working memory for tones, words, and pseudowords


Mariana E. Benassi-Werke , Marcelo Queiroz , Rben S. Arajo , Orlando F. A. Bueno & Maria Gabriela M. Oliveira
a a a a b c

Department of Psychobiology, Universidade Federal de So Paulo (UNIFESP), So Paulo, Brazil


b

Computer Science Department, Universidade de So Paulo (USP), So Paulo, Brazil


c

So Paulo State Symphony Orchestra Choir (OSESP), So Paulo, Brazil

Available online: 01 Dec 2011

To cite this article: Mariana E. Benassi-Werke, Marcelo Queiroz, Rben S. Arajo, Orlando F. A. Bueno & Maria Gabriela M. Oliveira (2011): Musicians' working memory for tones, words, and pseudowords, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, DOI:10.1080/17470218.2011.644799 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17470218.2011.644799

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THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY 2012, iFirst, 111

Musicians working memory for tones, words, and pseudowords


Mariana E. Benassi-Werke1, Marcelo Queiroz2, Rben S. Arajo3, Orlando F. A. Bueno1, and Maria Gabriela M. Oliveira1
1 2

Department of Psychobiology, Universidade Federal de So Paulo (UNIFESP), So Paulo, Brazil Computer Science Department, Universidade de So Paulo (USP), So Paulo, Brazil 3 So Paulo State Symphony Orchestra Choir (OSESP), So Paulo, Brazil

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Studies investigating factors that inuence tone recognition generally use recognition tests, whereas the majority of the studies on verbal material use self-generated responses in the form of serial recall tests. In the present study we intended to investigate whether tonal and verbal materials share the same cognitive mechanisms, by presenting an experimental instrument that evaluates short-term and working memories for tones, using self-generated sung responses that may be compared to verbal tests. This paradigm was designed according to the same structure of the forward and backward digit span tests, but using digits, pseudowords, and tones as stimuli. The prole of amateur singers and professional singers in these tests was compared in forward and backward digit, pseudoword, tone, and contour spans. In addition, an absolute pitch experimental group was included, in order to observe the possible use of verbal labels in tone memorization tasks. In general, we observed that musical schooling has a slight positive inuence on the recall of tones, as opposed to verbal material, which is not inuenced by musical schooling. Furthermore, the ability to reproduce melodic contours (up and down patterns) is generally higher than the ability to reproduce exact tone sequences. However, backward spans were lower than forward spans for all stimuli (digits, pseudowords, tones, contour). Curiously, backward spans were disproportionately lower for tones than for verbal materialthat is, the requirement to recall sequences in backward rather than forward order seems to differentially affect tonal stimuli. This difference does not vary according to musical expertise. Keywords: Short-term memory; Digit span; Tones; Melodies.

One important aspect of musical memory processing, the storage of tones, has always been studied using recognition tests (Berti, Mnzer, Schrger, & Pechmann, 2006; Brown & Martinez, 2007; Deutsch, 1970, 1973; Semal, Demany, Ueda, &

Hall, 1996; Zatorre, Evans, & Meyer, 1994). In these studies, a tone is presented (standard tone) and is compared to another tone presented a few seconds later (comparison tone). There are also other studies that use recognition tests for tone

Correspondence should be addressed to Mariana E. Benassi-Werke, Universidade Federal de So Paulo, Departamento de Psicobiologia, Rua Botucatu, 862, Vila Clementino, 04023-062, So Paulo, SP, Brasil. E-mail: marianawerke@yahoo.com.br This work was supported by Fundao de Amparo Pesquisa do Estado de So Paulo (FAPESP), Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Cientco e Tecnolgico (CNPq), and Associao Fundo de Incentivo Pesquisa (AFIP). # 2012 The Experimental Psychology Society http://www.psypress.com/qjep

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sequences, such as Logie and Edworthy (1986) and Williamson, Mitchell, Hitch, and Baddeley (2010). Studies investigating factors that inuence tone recognition usually focus on the question of whether verbal and tone material may (or may not) have some underlying common processing mechanism. For instance, Logie and Edworthy (1986, p. 36) showed that verbal tasks, combined with tone sequences presentation, cause disruption in tone sequence recognition, suggesting some functional overlap in the mechanisms required for processing auditory verbal and auditory nonverbal material. In Logie and Edworthys study, further evidence for the overlap is the susceptibility of tonal material recognition to articulatory suppression. On the other hand, in an older but very inuential study, Deutsch (1970) veried that tone recognition tests are severely disrupted by intervening tones, but only a slight performance decline occurs when the intervening stimuli are digits. Recently, Koelsch et al. (2009) showed that articulatory suppression interfered more severely with the storage of verbal material than with the storage of tonal material, although there appears to be an overlap in the neural network involved in both verbal and tonal storage as observed by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI; Koelsch et al., 2009). However, the majority of the studies on verbal material use self-generated responses in the form of serial recall tests. Concerning short-term memory, one of the most used paradigms is the digit span test in its two forms: the forward span test and the backward span test. The forward digit span test is used extensively to evaluate verbal short-term system capacity (Gabrieli, Gabrieli, Stebbins, & Sullivan, 1998; Norman, Kemper, Kynette, Cheung, & Anagnopoulos, 1991; Olazaran, Jacobs, & Stern, 1996; Saito, 2001; Shebani, Vijver, & Poortinga, 2005). In this test, participants are asked to listen to sequences of digits of increasing length, waiting until the end of each sequence to repeat it in forward order. Miller (1956) proposed that in English the human ability to process information in span tests has a capacity limit of seven items, plus or minus

two items. However, Cowan (2000) proposed that this high span is specic to linguistic material and derives from our ability to chunk information. Thus, a more realistic number would be four chunks, plus or minus one chunk. Some factors are known to inuence the ability to repeat words after a single presentation (verbal span), such as phonological similarity and word length effect (Baddeley, 1990). Another factor that can inuence this ability is the semantic context in which these words are inserted; for instance, serial recall in bilinguals is higher for rst-language words than for second-language words (Ardila, 2003; Thorn & Gathercole, 1999; Thorn, Gathercole, & Frakish, 2002). When the sequence of verbal items to be remembered is presented, and the participant is supposed to repeat it backwards, the manipulation of mnemonic representations of information is generally necessary. Therefore, these tasks are considered to evaluate working memory processes and are not inuenced by the same factors that affect forward span tests, such as word-length effect and phonological similarity, when correctin-position scoring is used (Tehan & Mills, 2007). In the present study, we used short-term memory and working memory paradigms to evaluate the extent to which tonal and verbal material might share the same mechanisms. For this purpose, we present an experimental instrument that evaluates short-term and working memories for tones, using self-generated sung responses that may be compared to verbal tests that use spoken responses. This paradigm was designed according to the same structure of the forward and backward digit span tests. One limitation of the present paradigm is that the technique can only be used with participants that possess some degree of musical training, in the same way that a verbal test can only be applied to verbally competent subjects. The rst purpose of the present study was to verify the performance prole of musicians in forward and backward tone, pseudoword, and digit spans in serial recall tests. The tone sequences were built based on the tones of the chromatic scale using unusual tone intervals in order to minimize

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the inuence of previous schemata stored in longterm memory that might be analogous to verbal context. As verbal short-term memory is inuenced by the meaning of words, a pseudoword span test was also used in order to provide experimental verbal material without the interference of semantic context, allowing us to verify possible differences in the two types of material. If tonal and verbal materials shared the same mechanisms for processing short-term memory and working memory, the same performance prole would be expected for meaningless verbal and tonal material. A second purpose of the present study was to investigate the effect of musical expertise in forward and backward tone span tests, by comparing the spans of amateur singers, with little formal musical education, with those of professional singers. It is considered that musical expertise may inuence long-term recall because professional musicians may use mnemonic strategies, based on structural aspects of melodies such as harmony and contour (Dowling, 1994; Schubert & Stevens, 2006). Contour spans, also dened in analogy to digit spans, are easily obtained in the analysis of self-generated sung responses, by modifying the acceptance criterion for a correctly recalled sequence: Only the up-and-down patterns of melodic contour are considered in this case, as opposed to strict tone comparison. In addition, an absolute pitch experimental group was included, in order to observe the possible use of verbal labels in tone memorization tasks (Itoh, Suwazono, Arao, Miyazaki, & Nakada, 2005; Zatorre, Perry, Beckett, Westbury, & Evans, 1998).

composed of 18 singers from the Orquestra Sinfnica do Estado de So Paulo (OSESP) and 2 singers from other two professional choirs from So Paulo, who reported an average music theory experience of 14.2 years (SE = 1.29); and the absolute pitch group (n = 15), which was composed of professional singers from OSESP, singing students from a music school in So Paulo, and professional instrumentalists and composers, with an average music theory experience of 12.93 years (SE = 2.19). Absolute pitch was veried through the application of an absolute pitch test, which will be described below. None of the participants from the rst two groups possessed absolute pitch, so that there was no overlap between groups. This study was approved by the UNIFESP Research Ethics Committee. Equipment We used a Samson C-15 microphone, an MAudio Mobile-Pre audio interface, and Sonys sound editor and pitch analyser software Sound Forge 8.0, to record the stimuli material. Tests were reproduced using a Dell notebook. Participants heard the stimuli through a Philips professional headphone, and all sessions were recorded with a Panasonic portable digital recorder. The pitch analyser of Sound Forge 8.0 was also used for the tone span assessment of each participant. Stimuli The stimuli were recorded in a professional studio. Two singers (male and female) were asked to sing or talk the chosen tones/words/pseudowords. Forward and backward digit span tests. Forward and backward digit span tests were built based on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence ScaleThird Edition (WAISIII) Digit Span test. The singers recorded spoken digits from 1 to 9, and the sound signals were edited in Sound Forge and built into sequences that varied in length from 2 to 9 digits. In both the forward and backward digit span tests, the rst two sequences had 2 digits, the next two sequences had 3 digits, and so on up to sequences of 10 digits. The position of the digits

Method
Participants Fifty-three participants, aged from 19 to 52 years, were divided into three groups: amateur singers (n = 18), composed of 12 singers from the Choir of Universidade Federal de So Paulo (Coral UNIFESP) and 6 singers from other university choirs, who had been engaged in choir singing for 4.54 years (SE = 0.96) and also had an average experience in music theory of 2.69 years (SE = 0.69, see Table 1); professional singers (n = 20),

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Table 1. Mean number of years of age, musical theory study, singing, and choir experience in amateur singers, professional singers, and absolute pitch groups Amateurs (N = 4 M + 14 F) Characteristic Age** Musical theory* Singing lessons*** Choir*** M 27.78 2.69 0.60 4.54 SE 1.86 0.69 0.45 0.96 Professionals (N = 7 M + 13 F) M 34.00 14.2 11.70 16.13 SE 1.50 1.29 1.10 1.83 Absolute Pitch (N = 8 M + 7 F) M 26.93 12.93 5.37 5.80 SE 1.98 2.19 2.24 1.44

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Note: All values in years. M = males. F = females. M = mean. SE = standard error. *Amateur singers differ from the other two groups ( p , .05). **Professional singers differ from the other two groups ( p , .05). ***Three groups differ among themselves ( p , .05).

in the audio sequences was similar to that of the WAISIII Digit Span test. Each digit had the approximate duration of 0.5 s and was followed by a silence interval of 0.5 s. There were two lists of digit sequences, A and B, for the forward and backward digit span tests. Each list could be used either as a forward digit span test or as a backward digit span test according to each experimental participant, in such a way that for half of the participants, List A was used for forward digit spans, and List B was used for backward digit spans, and for the other half of the participants, the roles of these lists were reversed. Forward and backward pseudoword span tests. Pseudoword span tests were built similarly to digit span tests, but pseudowords (words with no meaning, but phonetically similar to real Portuguese words) were used instead of digits. Nine pseudowords were created based on the digits, modifying some of their phonemesfor example, timbo instead of cinco (ve), daus instead of dois (two)and they were recorded by the same singers. The items of digit span tests were replaced by their corresponding pseudowords, preserving the same underlying sequences of increasing length. The pseudoword audio sequences were built using the software Sound Forge. Each pseudoword had the approximate duration of 0.5 s and was followed by a silence interval of 0.5 s. The role reversal of the sequence lists A and B was also applied to pseudoword tests.

Forward and backward tone span tests. In order to build the tone stimuli, chosen tones were played on a piano, and the singers had to reproduce them singing the vowel [a] from the international phonetic alphabet (Miller, 1986) for approximately 5s for each tone. After that, the tuning of the recorded stimuli was checked and recorded again if necessary. The recorded tones were edited using Sound Forge, and all stimuli had their amplitudes rescaled in order to produce equal intensity across all tone sequences. A 0.5-s sample was cut from approximately the middle section of each recorded tone and was pasted into a new le, with very short fade-in and fade-out ramps to avoid audible clicks in the sequences. After that, the tones were put together in predetermined sequences, always using 0.5-s silence intervals between them. Nine tones were chosen out of the 12 notes from the chromatic scale (C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#), ranging from C4 to G#4 (for male participants) and from C5 to G#5 (for female participants). The C4 G#4 range was chosen because it lies in the intersection of male vocal registers (tenors, baritones, and basses), and the C5G#5 range is also common to the female vocal registers (alto, mezzo-sopranos, and sopranos; Miller, 1986). Each of the nine chosen tones was identied with a digitfor example, C = 1, C# = 2, . . . , G# = 9, and after that the sequences of the WAISIII Digit Span test were translated using the corresponding tones. In order to avoid melodic structures that are easily recognized due

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to their frequent use in western musical repertoire, whenever a tone sequence contained an ascending or descending major triad, one of the notes was randomly changed in order to break the triadic structure. The tone sequences were built using the software Sound Forge. Each tone had the duration of 0.5 s and was followed by a silence interval of 0.5 s. These tests followed the same pattern of the digit and pseudoword span tests, using two lists, A and B, of tone sequences of increasing length with role reversal with respect to forward and backward span tests. Tune test and absolute pitch test. For the tune test and the absolute pitch test, the nine previously recorded tones (C5 to G#5 for female voices and C4 to G#4 for male voices) were randomly reordered to form a nine-tone random sequence. In these tests, each participant was supposed to respond to each isolated tone immediately after hearing it (no serial recall), and for that reason a 5-s interval was inserted between each tone. Procedure Experimental phase. All the experimental sessions were thoroughly recorded, and all stimuli were aurally presented to the participants through headphones, which were worn throughout the entire session. After their consent, participants answered a questionnaire about demographic characteristics and musical experience, and with other questions for participant screening and classication in experimental groups. After that, the tune test and the absolute pitch test were applied. Subsequently, forward and backward digit, pseudoword, and tone span tests were applied. In the tune test, participants had to listen and reproduce one tone at a time, singing the same vowel [a] as that presented in the recordings. Participant tones were considered correct when the deviation was less than a quarter-tone downwards or upwards with respect to the correct tone (F0), and they had to show 100% of correct answers to be considered in tune.

The absolute pitch test was applied using the same tones as those of the tune test, but in a different order. The participants had to hear one tone at a time and say the name of the notes, without previously being given any reference note and without resorting to any tune-producing device (such as a tuning fork or a musical instrument). In forward span tests, at the end of each sequence, participants were asked to reproduce the sequence in forward order, by either speaking or singing, according to the nature of the sequence. In backward span tests, the presentation of the sequences was similar to forward span tests, but now the participants were asked to reproduce the sequences backwards. All participants were exposed to the whole series of test sequences, and the test application was randomly reordered: After the tune test and absolute pitch test, the sequence of tests was randomly chosen for each participant. No volunteer tests were discarded until the end of the experimental phase. Data analysis The recorded experimental sessions were thoroughly heard, and the span measures were computed from the recordings. When two sequences of the same length were incorrectly repeated, the analysis of the corresponding test set was concluded, and the span was determined by the number of items in the last correctly repeated sequence. For the recorded tone sequences, another type of analysis was conducted prior to span denition. Each tone sequence reproduced by the participants was segmented into individual tones, and each tone was compared to the correct reference tone used in the original sequences. The spectrum analyser of the Sound Forge software was used for this purpose. In order to assess whether a recorded tone had been correctly reproduced by the participant, we adopted a quarter-tone tolerance criterion. This corresponds to one half of the smallest tone difference that exists in a chromatic (or 12-tone) scale and accounts for uctuations of fundamental frequency that occur naturally both with trained and with untrained singers.

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The audio signal of each reproduced tone was rst trimmed of its initial and nal sections, in order to remove wavering frequencies that are characteristic of human vocal emission, especially in the attack and release portions of the tone. The central, stable part of the sound was fed into the frequency analyser, where the rst prominent partial (f0) was inspected. If this frequency fell within the range of a quarter-tone downwards or upwards with respect to the correct tone (F0), the sample was considered correct. The same comparison was carried out between the second measured partial (f1) and its true theoretical value (2F0), in order to reconrm the hypothesis and to account for possible oscillations (e.g., vibrato) that might affect measurements. So, if the rst partial was only slightly off the tolerance range (a few Hz), and the second partial was near 2F0 (up to a quarter-tone difference), the sample was also considered correct. For instance, if the reference tone was an E4 = 329.63 Hz, and the participant reproduced a wavering tone where f0 = 340 Hz, and f1 = 670 Hz, then this sample would be accepted as a correct reproduction, since the range of acceptable f0 values would be [F0/1.0293, , F01.0293] = [320.24 Hz, , 339.29 Hz], and for f1, this range would be [2F0/ 1.0293, , 2F0*1.0293] = [640.49 Hz, , 678.57 Hz]. It should be noted that the above criterion for tone correctness applies only for obtaining tone span measures. Contour span measures, which correspond to the largest sequence of up-and-down patterns correctly reproduced, were obtained by comparison of the corresponding binary patterns (e.g., ++ + ) in the reference sequence and the one reproduced by the participant. Statistical analysis We used 4 one-way analyses of variance (ANOVAs) to compare each one of the following parameters between the three experimental groups: age, musical expertise (measured in years of musical theory study), and singing experience (measured in years of choir practice). The NewmanKeuls post hoc test was used when necessary. Traditional schooling was analysed for

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the three groups through the KruskalWallis test and then pairwise compared between groups using the MannWhitney U test. We used the chi-square test to compare sex distribution between groups. Forward and backward span tests were analysed separately. Forward span results were analysed by two-way ANOVA (with one repeated measure), considering two factors: groups, which had three levels (amateur singers, professional singers, and absolute pitch musicians), and type of mnemonic material, which had three levels (digit span, pseudoword span, and tone span). The same analysis was used for comparing tone and contour spans. The same was done for backward span results. The NewmanKeuls post hoc test was used for all analyses when necessary. The signicance level adopted was p , .05.

Results
Groups differed in age, F(2, 50) = 5.04, MSE = 274.64, p , .05. NewmanKeuls test established that professional singers had a higher mean age than the other two groups ( p , .05). A chi-square test showed that there is no difference between groups regarding sex distribution. All the above results are presented in Table 1. Groups were different in terms of traditional schooling, H(2, N = 53) = 6.28, p , .05, and the Mann Whitney test established that the absolute pitch group had lower mean schooling than the professional group, U = 80, p , .05. Mean musical expertise (in years of musical theory study) was different between groups, F(2, 50) = 20.24, MSE = 721.16, p , .05, and the NewmanKeuls test established that amateur singers had signicantly fewer years of musical theory study than the other groups ( p , .05). Choir experience (in years) also differed between groups, F(2, 50) = 18.64, MSE = 749.84, p , .05. Post hoc tests indicated that the mean choir experience was higher for professional singers than for the other groups ( p , .05). Finally, all three groups differed in years of singing lessons, F(2, 50) = 18.79, MSE = 589.68, p , .05, and the post hoc test indicated that

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professional singers had more years of singing lessons than absolute pitch musicians, and that both had more years of singing lessons than amateur singers ( p , .05). Forward test results The rst ANOVA comparing groups and the three types of material (digit, pseudoword, and tone spans) did not show a group effect, F(2, 50) = 0.24, MSE = 0.53, but there was an effect of type of material, F(2, 100) = 95.16, MSE = 84.73, p , .05. There was a signicant interaction between type of material and group in forward tests, F(4, 100) = 7.93, MSE = 7.06, p , .05. The analysis of post hoc tests for this interaction showed that digit spans were higher than pseudoword spans for amateur singers, and that spans for both were higher than tone spans ( p , .05). For the other two groups, digit spans were higher than the other two spans ( p , .05 for both groups), which were themselves statistically similar. Analysing each type of forward span separately, it was observed that the three groups had similar digit spans ( p . .05), pseudoword spans ( p . .05), and tone spans ( p . .05; Figure 1a). The second ANOVA comparing groups with type of material (tone and contour spans) showed a group effect, F(2, 45) = 5.081, MSE = 9.625, p , .05, and a NewmanKeuls test established that professionals spans were higher than amateurs spans ( p , .05). There was also an effect of type of

material, F(1, 45) = 46.744, MSE = 51.470, p , .05, and a NewmanKeuls test established that contour span was higher than tone span ( p , .05). There was no interaction between the two factors, F(2, 45) = 1.789, MSE = 1.97 (Figure 2a). Backward tests results The rst ANOVA comparing groups and the three types of material (digit, pseudoword, and tone spans) did not show a group effect, F(2, 50) = 1.12, MSE = 1.63. However, there was an effect of type of material, F(2, 100) = 87.58, MSE = 94.59, p , .001. Results showed an interaction between type of material and group, F(4, 100) = 6.40, MSE = 6.91, p , .05, and a NewmanKeuls test established that digit spans were higher than pseudoword spans for amateur and professional singers, and that these were both higher than tone spans ( p , .05). For absolute pitch musicians, digit spans were also higher than the other two spans ( p , .05), but pseudoword and tone spans for this group were statistically similar (Figure 1b). Comparing each backward span separately, groups presented similar digit spans ( p . .05) and pseudoword spans ( p . .05). Tone spans were higher for absolute pitch musicians than for the other two groups ( p , .05). The second ANOVA comparing groups with type of material (tone and contour spans) did not

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Figure 1. Means and standard errors of digit spans, pseudoword spans, and tone spans of the three groups in (a) forward recall and (b) backward recall.
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Figure 2. Means and standard errors of tone spans and contour spans of the three groups in (a) forward recall and (b) backward recall.

show a group effect, F(2, 45) = 2.8058, MSE = 6.7542. However, there was an effect of type of material, F(1, 45) = 52.9182, MSE = 55.9136, p , .05, and a NewmanKeuls test established that contour span was higher than tone span ( p , .05). There was no interaction between the two factors, F(2, 45) = 0.8452, MSE = 0.8931 (Figure 2b).

that backward recall performance decreases similarly for digits and pseudowords could be interpreted as a feature of working memory that is common to both types of material, despite their differences in terms of familiarity and long-termmemory representations. Verbal material Tonal material The verbal stimuli (digits, pseudowords) were used because they have progressively fewer components to aid storage: Digits possess meaning, phonetics, and sound; pseudowords do not possess meaning, only phonetics and sound. On the other hand, tones possess only sound (pitch), but their perception also implies another dimension of representation, with interval sizes and contour, which is related to up-and-down patterns (Dowling, 1994). So it is not possible to equalize the phonological structure and the difculty level of these two kinds of stimuli. However, some overall factors were controlled, such as the presentation time, the interval between presentation of each item, and the presentation format (two sequences with the same number of stimuli). Melodic contour is an important feature that inuences melodic recall, as observed by Dowling (1994). Small variations in contour have the potential to confuse nonmusicians in recognition tests due to pitch proximity, whereas musical training tends to reduce or even suppress this effect (Williamson, Baddeley, & Hitch, 2010). In particular, the very nature of the sung melodic recall

Discussion
Verbal material The higher ratings of digit recall over pseudoword recall may be related to the absence of semantic context (Ardila, 2003), or to the inuence of familiarity, since digits are likely to exist in long-term memory whereas pseudowords are not (Baddeley, 2000). These possibilities are reinforced by the fact that the length effect (Olazaran et al.,1996), the phonological similarity effect (Baddeley, 1990, 2003), and the time for subvocal rehearsal were controlled. Comparison of backward spans for these items might lead us to conclude that working memory for meaningful material is better than that for meaningless material, but this conclusion would only be supported by the relative loss of items due to storage constraints rather than loss due to the manipulation itself, which is one of the main differences in backward and forward recall. Although forward and backward recall may be inuenced by different factors (Tehan & Mills, 2007), the fact

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task, which is not so much distant from everyday choir practice, reinforces the need for some absolute pitch reference to be memorized by the participant, along with the sequence of intervals and general contour. Accordingly, participants in this experiment never produced transposed responses to any of the tests. Despite this fact, melodic contour alone seems to be easier to memorize, as observed in the analysis of contour spans obtained in the same experiment. This might be explained by the fact that contour is relational by denition, whereas the other types of material (digits, pseudowords, tones) are dened by absolute values. Analysing the meaningless stimulithat is, pseudowords and tonesin forward tests, we observe subtle effects due to interaction between group and material, since amateur singers present a decrease in tone span performance compared to pseudoword span performance, a characteristic that is not observed in professional singers and absolute pitch musicians. This phenomenon could not be due solely to differences in age or choir experience, since professionals and absolute pitch participants were also different regarding these factors. However, professionals and AP participants presented similar measures of musical expertise, as measured by formal musical education in years (see Table 1: years of musical theory). This fact suggests that musical schooling may inuence tone recall, as suggested by Berti et al. (2006). These authors suggest that musicians have an advantage in storing auditory information, due not solely to their superior encoding of information but also to improved working memory processes, and that this advantage relies on specialized longterm structures built up during musical training and practice. Forward tone spans for professional singers may seem low, especially if we take into account that musicians are used to storing very long melodies in memory. Surprise at this fact was reported by some volunteers. The tone sequences of this study were built from the chromatic scale, which divides the octave into 12 equal semitones, and were randomly generated and therefore not predictable. This was done to prevent musicians from using

tone schemes prestored in long-term memory. The denition of tone sequences after a random nonmusical source (i.e., WAIS digit sequences) accounts for the lack of familiarity and predictability of these sequences, minimizing the impact of both schematic and veridical melodic expectations (Bharucha, 1994; Carlsen, 1981; Unyk & Carlsen, 1987). This supports the claim that melodic expectations were as controlled as they could be in an experiment based on the digit span test, considering the constraint that the set of tone sequences should be the same for all participants. Western music, both classical and popular, is largely based on tonality, which is generally based on the diatonic scale; this is the basis for the general notion that diatonic sequences are more familiar to individuals with western musical training. Although evidence to support the claim that diatonic sequences are more memorable than chromatic sequences is scarce, Bartlett and Dowling (1988) were able to show that the scalar structure does inuence the perception of tone similarity, a phenomenon they called asymmetric similarity. It is possible that forward tone spans might be different if tone sequences were built using other types of scales, such as the pentatonic or the diatonic scales. Further work is being developed to explore other factors that may inuence short-term memory span for tones. Absolute pitch participants possess the capacity to associate verbal codes with notes (Zatorre et al., 1998), and they also have the ability to use long-term memory to recall tones without reverberating a pitch continuously to maintain it in shortterm memory (Wayman, Frisina, Walton, Hantz, & Crummer, 1992). Those absolute pitch characteristics may have inuenced the tone recall, explaining the similar proles of tone and pseudoword for these participants. We may observe that manipulation of meaningless verbalacoustic items in working memory does not seem to be generally more difcult than manipulation of meaningful verbalacoustic items. But the fact that both amateur and professional singers present a signicant decrease in performance for backward tone and contour recall is an

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indication that the difculty in reversing melodies or contours is higher than the difculty in reversing pseudowords, and this specic difculty cannot be attributed exclusively to the meaninglessness of these items. This fact might be explained by the relational nature of tone and contour sequences, where the reversal of items also reverses musical intervals and contour patterns. In conclusion, we have introduced a novel method for measuring tone spans, using self-generated sung responses. Although this method requires the ability to sing (but not necessarily the knowledge of music notation) and therefore excludes consideration of nave nonmusicians, it allows a more thorough comparison of paired results with other span measures, such as digit span and word span. Despite the exclusion of nonmusicians, we were able to verify the effect of musical expertise differences in short-term memory through comparison of amateur singers and professional singers. Future experiments using the above method may address interesting and open issues relative to interference tests such as articulatory suppression or irrelevant sound effect, as well as investigations into familiarity or other factors that might inuence short-term memory coding and processing.
Original manuscript received 29 November 2010 Accepted revision received 11 November 2011 First published online 24 February 2012

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