Music Skill = Memory Capacity + Practice

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill., July 10 (UPI) — Student musicians are often told the road to Carnegie Hall is paved with practice, practice, practice, but U.S. researchers say memory capacity may also help.

Researchers Elizabeth Meinz of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville and David Hambrick of Michigan State University in East Lansing find the amount of time a person spends practicing explains about 45 percent of the variance in sight-reading skill. However, they say working memory capacity is also important.

The study, published in Psychological Science, finds when the effect of practice is taken out, another 7 percent of variance in sight-reading skill is explained by working memory capacity.

“Practice is absolutely important to performance,” Meinz said in a statement. “But our study does suggest that cognitive abilities, particularly working memory capacity, might limit the ultimate level of performance that could be attained.”

Meinz, Hambrick and colleagues asked pianists to sight read six “tests” rarely used in the United States. Each pianist was graded based on technical proficiency, musicality and performance level. The pianists — asked to give a history that included hours of practice time — were also tested on working memory capacity.

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