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Sleep Can Improve Musician’s Newly Learned Skills

Update Date: Apr 11, 2013 01:48 PM EDT

Getting a good night's sleep has been encouraged by researchers and doctors in helping people alleviate certain symptoms and stress. According to new research done at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, sleep can also enhance a musician's ability, especially after learning a new skill. The researchers, headed by Sarah E. Allen, an assistant professor of music education at the University's Meadows School of the Arts, looked at pianists in particular, their musical capabilities in learning a new melody, and how sleep contributed to their new skills.

"The goal is to understand how the brain decides what to keep, what to discard, what to enhance, because our brains are receiving such a rich data stream and we don't have room for everything," Allen explained. "I was fascinated to study this because as musicians we practice melodies in juxtaposition with one another all the time."

The research team recruited 60 undergraduates and graduates with music majors from the university. The participants were divided into four groups at random and every one was required to practice only one or both of the new melodies that was provided by the experimenters. The musicians learned the new melodies with a Roland digital piano, which allowed the researchers to measure the number of correct notes per 30-second intervals. Based from this measurement, the researchers could record who performed better in terms of speed and accuracy.

The study revealed that after a good night's rest, the group of participants who learned only one melody had the most improvement in musical skills. The group that learned two melodies, one right after the other and did not get any practice time did not improve at all. The remaining two groups that learned both melodies, but were able to practice on one of them before sleeping performed better on that specific melody.

This study revealed that certain brain functions could be enhanced during sleep. By identifying how the brain processes new information to help the individual improve in a particular task could help with more research regarding people's learning abilities.

The study will be published in Psychology of Music

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