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This pilot study compared the effect of music played in major and minor keys on long-term declarative memory in high school students. Major and minor keys are pivotal theoretical distinctions in music known to trigger different emotional responses. While the influence of specific genres of music on memory have been studied, possible effects of the tonality of music have not been explored. It was hypothesized that music would improve LT-DM, and music played in the minor key would illicit a greater improvement than the major. A total of 21 volunteer high school students were equally randomized between two groups. Each group completed a control and an experimental long-term memory test. Tests comprised of a reading phase where students studied a standardized passage, and a multiple-choice question phase 7 days later, where their memory of the studied text was examined. The reading phase of the control test was conducted in a quiet environment. During the reading phase of the experimental test, a piece of piano music was played. The same music was played in the major key for one group and in the minor key for the other. Both groups demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in the experimental test compared to their own control (p = 0.0078, p = 0.0107). A trend towards better memory retention with the minor-keyed music was observed compared with the major key. The difference between the two groups of improvement with music, however, did not meet statistical significance (p = 0.31). A larger complementary study may provide more definitive information regarding comparative effects of major and minor musical keys on long-term memory.
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