Familiarity with a melody prior to training increases children's piano performance accuracy
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The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of familiarity with the sound of a melody on children’s performance of the melody following brief training. A secondary purpose was to explore the effects of varied sound feedback during testing on children’s performance accuracy. Children (N = 97) in kindergarten through fourth grade were taught to play a short melody on an electronic piano keyboard during brief, individual training sessions. Half of the children listened to the test melody prior to training for approximately eight minutes during music class over a period of two weeks. The remainder of the children had not heard the melody prior to training. Immediately following training, children were administered performance tests, during which they attempted to play (1) the first two measures of the test melody under three conditions: with the keyboard sound audible; with the keyboard sound turned off; and with the starting note lowered from C to B, thus altering the intervals in the melody, and (2) all four measures of the test melody. Performance accuracy was assessed in terms of the number of correct notes and the number of correct measures played in each test condition. The children also completed two standardized tests of memory for digit spans and hand motion sequences. Children who were familiar with the melody played significantly more correct notes and correct measures in the four-measure test than did children who were not familiar with the melody. Performance accuracy increased with increasing grade level. The three tests of the first two measures revealed no significant main effects, but there was a significant interaction between sound feedback and grade level, suggesting that attention to sound feedback changes with age. No significant correlations were found between performance accuracy and the scores on either standardized test of memory. Familiarity with the test melody influenced children’s ability to play the melody accurately following brief training. The lack of difference among the two-measure test conditions suggests that children can rely on their memory of the physical movement when sound feedback is not available.