Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)


Music Education and Music Therapy (Music)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Teresa Lesiuk

Second Committee Member

Kimberly Sena Moore

Third Committee Member

James Moore


This study examined the effects of rhythm, melody, and harmony on verbal recall in typical older adults. Ninety healthy older adults heard an audio recording of a 16-item grocery list in one of four conditions: 1) Rhythmic Speech, 2) Melody Only, 3) Melody and Harmony, or 4) Regular Speech. Each participant heard their assigned recording five times and recalled the list as accurately as possible after hearing the recording once, twice, five times, and following a 10-minute distraction task. A significant interaction between auditory condition and time was found. Specifically, the Rhythmic Speech group's recall scores were significantly higher than the Melody Only and the Melody and Harmony groups' after one listening. However, only the Melody Only and the Regular Speech groups maintained their recall scores following the distraction task. These findings suggest that rhythm provides easily perceived patterns that efficiently transfer verbal information into working memory. While melodic patterns may take longer to learn, this element may have enabled more accurate recall following the 10-minute distraction task. Thus, this study's results advocate for the incorporation of both rhythmic and melodic structural patterns into mnemonic songs. Further analyses indicated that cognitive functioning and musical training may have impacted older adults' verbal recall beyond the musical mnemonic itself. These findings may be useful in explaining the mechanisms underlying musical mnemonics. Professionals, including music therapists, working with older adults to improve memory may compose original music featuring repetitive, distinct, and easily perceived musical patterns to aid encoding and retrieval of verbal information.


music; short-term memory; mnemonics; word recall; verbal memory; older adults