Music & Memory

This piece was first published at on February 22, 2015.

For a light piece of reading, check out this article at Psychology Today that provides an overview of some effects that music has on the brain.

If you are really feeling like getting into the thick of neuroscience, the process by which the brain encodes memory, and the way in which music or acting can actually impact this process, please click here. The article I read begins on p. 11 and is written by doctor John Jonidas at the University of Michigan. He has done several studies with musicians and actors that demonstrate the impact of the arts on learning. Two studies comparing musicians to non musicians showed that musicians have mastered the process of encoding memory through rehearsal (rote memory) more effectively than non musicians. If they are given the chance to practice, musicians outperform nonmusicians in tests of their memory. However, without the chance to practice, the results are the same. However, a second study showed that the non musicians relied more on their ability to remember through association rather than repetition. A third study of actors showed that they may have mastered the process of memory on a different basis than musicians. Instead of memorizing their lines, they memorize the context of the lines (association) and may even ‘remember’ lines that weren’t originally part of the script. Their brain remembers the big picture, and from that they bring up the specifics.

I found these studies fascinating as I am interested in knowing more about the effect of music on learning. I spent 20 years practicing the piano and still find that sitting down at the keys can help me to organize my thoughts. At some point in the future, I intend to begin studying the science of music and the way it can impact everything from health to mood, to, apparently, memory. For now, I am simply looking for ways to integrate the study of music into the learning experience that I am developing.

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