Monday, September 10, 2018

How Music Affects Your Memory | Music Think Tank

Has it ever happened to you that you hear an old touching song that brought up beautiful memories? The power of music is so strong that it creates some special links in our minds, especially during the earlier stages of our lives.

Music can help people with damaged memory remember some events from their past. This is most useful with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

On the other hand, playing a musical instrument can improve your memory as well. In this article, we’re going to discuss these topics and show you the major benefits that music can bring to your memory.

The role of the upper medial pre-frontal cortex

Petr Janata, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California, conducted a study about the connection between music and our deepest memories.

Since the brain is both a perceptive and associative organ, it creates links between our senses and the stimuli, which are then processed and stored in our long-term and short-term memory.

Music, in general, has a positive effect on people and their emotions, especially the music that we like to listen to.

This is why some of the most deep-rooted memories that we have been associated with music.

Professor Janata selected a group of people and exposed them to 30 songs. Then he tracked what was happening in their brains while they were listening to that music. The special condition he chose was that the songs have to be popular in the period when the subjects were 8-18 years old.

With the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, professor Janata discovered that the neural activity in the upper medial pre-frontal cortex was stronger as they were listening to those songs. This part is responsible for keeping and retrieving our long-term memories. Now it’s clear that the process of linking emotions, memories and music happens in this part, as well.

Playing music enhances memory and cognition

Playing a musical instrument has a positive effect on the emotional and cognitive development, and that’s something we’ve known for ages. However, today neuropsychologists claim that playing a musical instrument doesn’t only improve the area of memory related to music, but it also has a positive effect on memory in general.

In line with that, neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday from the University of expresses her theory that music is a powerful mental stimulus that triggers brain development like no other thing. The parts of the brain that benefit most from playing a musical instrument are working memory, as well as the center for speech and language.

What’s more, musical training increases the amount of grey matter and deepens the links between them.

Also, people who might have genetic predispositions for hearing issues as they’re getting old could slow down the progress of these problems is they take up a musical instrument.

Therefore, the best thing your child can do is start playing a musical instrument at a young age. Of course, some of them will lose interest in it after a while, and that’s fine. But if you see that your kid is talented and interested in musical training, support them and music will be their devoted, lifelong companion.

The power of the unconscious

We’ve already explained how music established connections inside the brain and why it can make you memorize things in a better way.

Now let’s move on to the connection between unconscious and music.

Every human being has two different types of memory: explicit and implicit.  Explicit memory is like a storage room that we go to voluntarily and take what we need from there at that moment. For instance, if you want to remember a mobile phone number, you activate explicit memory.

Implicit memory, on the other hand, is inside the unconscious part of our mind. The data from that area are retrieved in an involuntary way, meaning that it’s triggered by unexpected stimuli. If you’re driving your car around the Christmas time and you hear the song “Driving Home for Christmas” on the radio, it’s highly likely that you’re going to be overwhelmed by a large number of emotions.

The way music evokes memories can be compared only to the similar effect of the sense of smell. Both these brain activities take us back to the most pleasant and relaxed periods of our lives. That’s the reason why the scientists in the experiment explained above concentrated on the songs that were popular when their target audience was at a young age.

Classical music and studying

When it comes to music and studying, it’s not only musical training that can help you study in a faster and more efficient way. Students who are preparing their exams can benefit from sheer listening to music.

While this is a general assumption, there are some individual differences. First and foremost, not every student will be able to study efficiently by listening to every musical genre. Modern teenagers will most probably respond better to Adele than to Donna Summer, while middle-aged people are more likely to happily study new things while listening to the music from the ‘80s and the ‘90s – 1980s and 1990s (we’re not that middle-aged).

However, some scientists claim that it’s been proven that classical music enhances studying, especially when you’re doing maths homework.

Others consider this theory a myth that doesn’t have any scientific basis.

You can only see for yourself if music enhances your studying productivity or distracts you. 


It’s hard to find a person who doesn’t like music. Even those people who don’t find music too important have a number of two that touch them emotionally. When we know that listening to music and playing a musical instrument creates numerous positive associations in our mind, it’s even more obvious that we should spend as much time as possible with music.

Even more importantly, if we direct our kids towards music, we’ll open a whole new world of possibilities for them from an early age. With all these things in mind, indulge yourself in your favorite songs and genre, and let music spin the windmills of your mind.

Brian Clark is an author at Musician Wave, a blog dedicated to providing useful articles on music promotion, musician lifestyle and gear reviews.


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