Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Music Education and Music Therapy (Music)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Shannon K. de l'Etoile

Second Committee Member

Don D. Coffman

Third Committee Member

Teresa Lesiuk

Fourth Committee Member

Michael Alessandri

Fifth Committee Member

Christopher L. Bennett


The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of pitch range (i.e., high vs low) in a simple, musical context on sustained and selective attention in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and typically-developing (TD) children. This study also explored the effect of different types of distracting sounds on selective attention in both groups. Existing research indicates that music-based interventions or background music during cognitive tasks can promote attention in children with ASD. However, no published study has yet explored the effects of specific musical elements, such as pitch range, on attention in children with and without ASD. Thus, the present study addressed a current void in the research literature. A total of 70 children with and without ASD completed the Music-Based Attention Assessment-Revised for Children II (MAA-RC II). The MAA-RC II is a melodic-contour identification test, including sustained and selective attention subtests. For each subtest, target melodic contours are presented in three directions: ascending, descending, and stationary. Equal numbers of items are presented either at a low pitch range (i.e., 220 Hz to 523.55 Hz) or at a high pitch range (i.e., 1046.5 Hz to 2637 Hz) in a keyboard timbre. During the selective attention subtest, participants heard a recorded continuous (i.e., water flowing), fluctuating (i.e., bird song), or intermittent sound (i.e., woodblock) against each target melodic contour as an auditory distraction. In both attention subtests, participants listened to each melodic contour and identified the direction of the melody. The independent variables were pitch range, population, type of attention task, and type of distracting sound. The dependent variable was the frequency of correct responses to the MAA-RC II. The most prominent finding in the present study was the lack of a significant difference between the two groups regardless of pitch range, type of attention, or distracting sound. These results imply that children with ASD, similar to TD children, can understand and complete a music-based attention task and can maintain attention to simple music stimuli. Results suggest that music is an appropriate sensory stimulus for attention in children with and without ASD. Results revealed that children with ASD achieved significantly higher scores on the sustained attention subtest when the stimulus consisted of a low pitch range rather than a high pitch range. This finding indicates that children with ASD might attend differently to sound depending on pitch range. Specifically, children with ASD might be more attentive to low-pitched sounds compared to high-pitched sounds. In addition, although the inferential results demonstrated no statistical significance, the descriptive results indicated that both TD children and children with ASD achieved higher MAA-RC II scores in both sustained and selective attention subtests when they heard target melodies at a low pitch range compared to a high pitch range. Moreover, both TD children and children with ASD successfully completed the MAA-RC II with a fair degree of accuracy for both sustained and selective attention subtests. Additionally, Cronbach’s alpha for internal consistency of the MAA-RC II was high, indicating that simple music stimuli can be a reliable tool to assess sustained and selective attention in children with and without ASD. Based on these findings, music therapists and other professionals who work with children who have ASD can gain valuable information about the relationship between pitch range and attention for this population. The findings may also contribute to scientific evidence for the therapeutic use of music for improving attention, and may inform the diagnostic use of music for children who have attentional problems.


Pitch Range; Autism Spectrum Disorder; Sustained Attention; Selective Attention; Music-Based Attention Assessment; Music Therapy