Working Memory and Music Theory Fundamentals

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 at 3:30pm to 4:45pm

Leigh VanHandel (Associate Professor of Music Theory, Michigan State University) will present a talk titled “Working Memory and Music Theory Fundamentals” on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 from 3:30-4:45 pm in Music Room 1145. Sponsored by UCSB Music History and Theory Forum.
Recent research by VanHandel (2012) and Rogers et al. (2017) has provided increasing support for the frequently conjectured link between the cognitive processes involved in music theory (specifically, fundamentals) and those in mathematics. Students who struggle with music theory frequently also exhibit difficulties with basic mathematics properties and operations. This presentation investigates what may be an underlying cause of these difficulties – the role of working memory in education in general and music theory learning in particular. Dr. VanHandel will take a deeper look at visuospatial working memory in particular to understand the crucial role it plays in mathematics ability and its potential correlation with music theory ability. Dr. VanHandel will conclude with a discussion of how to identify students that may have a working memory deficit, and of how to reduce cognitive load to minimize the effect of a working memory deficit in testing situations. She will provide illustrations of common music theory fundamentals question types and offer suggestions for rewriting and reframing of questions, as well as other classroom-based techniques, to minimize cognitive load. The presentation includes a demonstration of a music theory fundamentals task designed to challenge the working memory of the audience, to illustrate how a student with a working memory deficit may be at a disadvantage when processing information in the music theory classroom. In other words: yes, there will be a quiz.
Leigh VanHandel is Associate Professor of Music Theory at Michigan State University. Her primary research areas are music theory pedagogy, music cognition, the relationship between music and language, computer-assisted research, and how those things all relate to one another. She is the author of Oxford University Press’s Music Theory Skill Builder, an online music fundamentals drill and practice program, and has published in journals such as Music Perception, The Journal of New Music Research, Empirical Musicology Review, and The Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy. She is currently serving on the Executive Board for the Society for Music Theory, and is editor and contributor to Routledge’s volume The Routledge Companion to Music Theory Pedagogy, scheduled for publication in 2019.

Target Audience

Alumni, Graduate Students, Prospective Students, Undergraduate Students


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