Alexander Khalil-1, Victor H. Minces-2, Deborah Forster-3, Scott Makeig-4, Paula Tallal-5, Judy Reilly-6, Tzyy-Ping Jung-7, Grainne McLoughlin-8, Andrea Chiba-9, Marta Kutas-10
Of all the world's musical cultures, that of the Balinese—featuring a variety of pitched percussion orchestras known as "gamelan"—seems to value and emphasize ensemble synchrony most highly. Teaching this music to American elementary school children for ten years, ethnomusicologist Alexander Khalil observed that ability to synchronize in an ensemble setting—regardless of other musical abilities—seemed to correlate strongly with ability to "pay attention” or maintain focus not only in music class but in other areas as well.
Deficits in time integration have been reported in ADHD patients (Barkley: 1997), and dyslexia patients (Tallal: 2004). In this latter case, it has been shown that intensive training on a task involving temporal processing led to significant improvements. Since music is a ubiquitous part of human culture, it is reasonable to speculate that some evolutionary advantage may be derived from its practice. All musical patterns involve multiple nested time scales that can range from tens of milliseconds to tens of minutes in length. Musical practice demands a unique level of integration in the processing of these different intervals and may thus play an important role in the refinement of temporal perception and facilitate coordination and communication amongst members of like-cultured groups.
Khalil, Victor Minces, and Andrea Chiba began investigating this issue in 2010. Their pilot project, conducted at the Museum School, a San Diego City Schools charter school, demonstrated a significant correlation between the ability of 150 children to synchronize in an ensemble setting and overall attentional performance, as measured by standard psychometric tests and teacher questionnaires.
Now that a relationship between the ability to synchronize musically and attentional performance has been established, and because musical synchrony can be learned, the research team seeks to determine whether a period of musical practice might translate to overall improvement in attentional performance.
Barkley, Russell A., Seth Koplowitz, Tamara Anderson, and Mary B. McMurray. 1997. Sense of time in children with ADHD: Effects of duration, distraction, and stimulant medication. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society 3 (04):359-369.
Tallal, P. Improving language and literacy is a matter of time. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2004, 5, 721--728.
1-Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Cognitive Science-UCSD, firstname.lastname@example.org; 2-Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Cognitive Science-UCSD; 3-Ph.D. candidate, Department of Cognitive Science-UCSD; 4-Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience-UCSD; 5-Center for Molecularand Behavioral Neuroscience-Rutgers University, Salk Institute; 6-Department of Psychology-SDSU; 7-Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience; 8-Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London; 9-Departament of Cognitive Science-UCSD; 10-Director, Center for Research in Language, UC San Diego