Sleep Enhances Memory (but Don't Overload the Brain)

Here’s an example of recent music education research that sheds additional light on an aspect of human memory:

In their study described in the Summer 2006 Journal of Research in Music Education, NAfME member Robert A. Duke and coauthor Carla M. Davis tested the extent to which the digital keyboard performance of 49 college music majors changed between the end of training on a series of five-finger patterns and retesting on subsequent days. They discovered that learning continued after the cessation of practice during both the first and second nights of sleep following the training.

“Our data replicate what has been shown quite reliably to date, namely, that following the initial acquisition of novel skills, learning continues as memories are stabilized during waking hours following practice; memories are further refined, and in some cases skills are enhanced, during sleep,” say the authors.

Too much information, however, may work against solid memory. Duke and Davis also discovered that “learning a new sequence immediately after the subject recalled an already-learned sequence may interfere with sleep-based enhancement of the sequence learned first.”

Robert A. Duke is the Marlene and Morton Meyerson Centennial Professor in Music Human Learning at the University of Texas at Austin, where he directs the Center for Music Learning. Coauthor Carla Davis is an assistant professor of music at Texas Tech University (Lubbock). For the complete article, see the Summer 2006 Journal of Research in Music Education (Volume 54, no. 2), pp. 111–124.

—Ella Wilcox, originally posted April 29, 2008, ©  National Association for Music Education (