Welcome back! Last time I covered a lot of information regarding the relationship between emotion and music. In the post, I talked about how music can be a wonderful outlet and coping mechanism for musicians and listeners alike. This week, I’m covering the less common topic of: music and its relationship with our memories.
If you think about it, you’ve likely experienced music’s effect on memory every day of your life without really realizing it. For instance, if I said to you: “Charmin Ultra, less is more.” You just might sing it;). People in advertising are very familiar with the concept that music has a remarkable way of helping people remember things. If you ever had to memorize something in school, you may have had a teacher use this technique. (Shout out to the Animaniacs for their songs about the countries, states and capitals when I was in school).
In addition, the brain is essentially a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger its abilities. When someone listens to or plays music, the memory center of the brain lights up completely, (and more so for the musician than for the listener). I taught seven piano lessons today, and I can tell you that this is clearly evident during the lesson. Let me explain:
During a lesson, one of the first things your piano teacher will do with the student is have them “sight-read” the song. This simply means playing at first sight. In my lessons and depending on the student, we generally spend a lot of time looking over the music and determining what to prepare for throughout the song. Once they begin to play, the first time through the piece is generally pretty rough. (As it is for me the first time I play a difficult piece.) Throughout the sight-reading process, the student is absorbing as much information about the piece as they possibly can. The notes, counts, dynamics, articulations, fingering, and tempo are just a few of the things on a student’s mind when they’re doing their first run-through. There’s a lot to absorb. After the first painful time through the piece, I can see the exhaustion manifest itself in each student. In some, they check out and want to do something else, (sometimes halfway through the piece or less) others physically sigh and slump over, announcing “PHEW!”
The truth is, learning a piece takes a lot of brain power, and most of us feel the brain fry! This kind of mental exhaustion is largely due to the fact that the memory center of the brain is working at full capacity. But here’s the cool part: after playing through the piece for the first time, I have my students play it just one more time, (sometimes with a break in-between). From the first time to the second time through, I cannot express just how drastically their ability to play the song increases. It is honestly so much fun to watch. Afterwards, the student always seems much less intimidated by the song and much more ready to go for the week.
Exercising this portion of the brain so efficiently spills into a number of other subjects. In fact, reputable experiments have shown that musicians demonstrate more advanced abilities when it comes to the memorization involved in several academic subjects. Feel free to read my main reference below for this blog post – it goes into further detail with some fascinating examples. To keep this short and sweet, I’ll just let you know that it’s absolutely real and so stinking cool.
Thank you so much for reading this week! Join me next time where I’ll delve into the relationship between music and its effect on, believe it or not, our physical movements! (That is, beyond making us want to dance).
Talk to you soon!