In this paper, we initiate the use of spectral analysis for assessing locking phenomena in finite element formulations. We propose to ``measure'' locking by comparing the difference between eigenvalue and mode error curves computed on coarse meshes with ``asymptotic'' error curves computed on ``overkill'' meshes, both plotted with respect to the normalized mode number. To demonstrate the intimate relation between membrane locking and spectral accuracy, we focus on the example of a circular ring discretized with isogeometric curved Euler-Bernoulli beam elements. We show that the transverse-displacement-dominating modes are locking-prone, while the circumferential-displacement-dominating modes are naturally locking-free. We use eigenvalue and mode errors to assess five isogeometric finite element formulations in terms of their locking-related efficiency: the displacement-based formulation with full and reduced integration and three locking-free formulations based on the B-bar, discrete strain gap and Hellinger-Reissner methods. Our study shows that spectral analysis uncovers locking-related effects across the spectrum of eigenvalues and eigenmodes, rigorously characterizing membrane locking in the displacement-based formulation and unlocking in the locking-free formulations.