We have only a partial understanding of how people remember nonverbal information such as melodies. Although once learned, melodies can be retained well over long periods of time, remembering newly presented melodies is on average quite difficult. People vary considerably, however, in their level of success in both memory situations. Here, we examine a skill we anticipated would be correlated with memory for melodies: the ability to accurately reproduce pitches. Such a correlation would constitute evidence that melodic memory involves at least covert sensorimotor codes. Experiment 1 looked at episodic memory for new melodies among non-musicians, both overall and with respect to the Vocal Memory Advantage (VMA): the superiority in remembering melodies presented as sung on a syllable compared to rendered on an instrument. Although we replicated the VMA, our prediction that better pitch matchers would have a larger VMA was not supported, although there was a modest correlation with memory for melodies presented in a piano timbre. Experiment 2 examined long-term memory for the starting pitch of familiar recorded music. Participants selected the starting note of familiar songs on a keyboard, without singing. Nevertheless, we found that better pitch-matchers were more accurate in reproducing the correct starting note. We conclude that sensorimotor coding may be used in storing and retrieving exact melodic information, but is not so useful during early encounters with melodies, as initial coding seems to involve more derived properties such as pitch contour and tonality.
Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics
Halpern, Andrea and Pfordresher, Peter Q.. "What Do Less Accurate Singers Remember? Pitch-matching Ability and Long-term Memory for Music." (2022) : 260-269.