Dissertation Index

Author: Rogers, Nancy M.

Title: The Role of Verbal Encoding in Memory for Musical Timbre and Pitch Patterns

Institution: University of Rochester

Begun: unspecified

Completed: July 2000


Musical understanding relies heavily upon the listener’s memory, and our capacity to remember aural events is critical to our musical understanding. This does not mean, however, that music must be encoded in (and retrieved from) memory exclusively as sensory representations. Instead, musical memory might also be encoded by other means, such as verbal or kinesthetic representations. This dissertation examines aspects of verbal encoding of musical stimuli.

Numerous researchers have confirmed that language apparently influences visual memory — for instance, the ability to recognize colors, faces, and pictures. Similar linguistic effects have been observed involving memory for taste, odor, and non-musical sound. However, we are only beginning to investigate the role of verbal encoding specifically in musical memory.

After reviewing the relevant literature and introducing concepts fundamental to my dissertation, I present a series of original experiments addressing the verbal component of musical memory. The first two experiments address memory for timbre, and the last two experiments focus on pitch patterns in a diatonic context. The results of all four experiments suggest that trained musicians employ verbal encoding strategies when attempting to remember musical stimuli.

Labels (e.g., instrument names for timbres or solfège syllables for pitches) were shown to have an overall positive impact on musical memory, although some detrimental effects were also observed. In general, correctly named items were more likely to be recognized as targets and correctly rejected as lures than were incorrectly named items. Items that were not correctly identified were especially likely to produce false alarms when presented as lures. Both pitch experiments demonstrated a positive relationship between the ability to identify notes as solfège syllables and overall performance in a pitch-pattern recognition task. The pedagogical implications of these results are discussed.

Keywords: cognition, perception, verbal encoding, language, memory, labels, timbre, pitch, experiment


1. Introduction
2. Long-term memory for timbre
3. Short-term memory for timbre
4. Short-term memory for untransposed pitch patterns
5. Short-term memory for transposed pitch patterns
6. Conclusions


Lawrence University Conservatory of Music
420 East College Avenue
Appleton, WI 54911
(920) 832-6824 office; (920) 832-6633 FAX

     Return to dissertations