Effects of early break intervals on musicians’ and nonmusicians’ skill learning

Amy L. Simmons, Sarah E. Allen, Carla Davis Cash, Robert A. Duke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We measured the extent to which motor skill performance is advantaged by break intervals that include varied types of cognitive activity interposed early in a training session, directly comparing the performances of musicians and nonmusicians. Participants (N = 118; 59 music majors, 59 nonmusicians) learned a 5-element keypress sequence on a digital piano during 12 min training sessions. Participants in three conditions took a 5 min break after 3 min of practice, and either practiced a new 5-element sequence (Break-motor), memorized word pairs (Break-word pair), or conversed with the proctor (Break-talk). Those in the fourth condition took no break (No-break). Participants were tested 12 hr later, following a night of sleep. Participants made significant performance gains across training and test, but musicians significantly outperformed nonmusicians at all timepoints. Nonmusicians made greater percentage gains than did musicians over the 5 min break interval and overnight, and participants in the Break-motor condition made significantly smaller gains over the 5 min break interval than did participants in the Break-talk and Break-word pair conditions. These results demonstrate that tasks involving declarative memories do not diminish performance enhancements that accrue during breaks early in motor skill practice, but these enhancements can be inhibited by engaging in competing motor tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-95
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology of Music
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • memory consolidation
  • motor skills
  • music practice
  • neuroscience
  • performance


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