Exposure to music occurs while children are still developing in the womb. As early as the toddler age, one can begin recalling the melody and lyrics of various lullabies. As children develop, their experience with music parallels in expansion. With exposure to vast amounts of music, how is music so easily recalled and what does this imply about human memory?
Empirical studies on the relationship between music and memory explore a revolutionary field and demand further investigation. Experimentation implies that one recalls music with greater ease if it is pleasing or emotionally stimulating. Additionally, a positive correlation exists between music and improvements in both visual and auditory memory. Finally, research concludes that music impact on memory maintains possible therapeutic applications.
Music is a universally appreciated art form however, what is it that makes music so pleasing and how does this variable affect recollection of music? To begin investigating this question one must first regress to what constitutes the sounds music are comprised from. Music encompasses methodically arranged sounds that are formed from basic elements such as loudness, pitch, tempo, and timbre (Levitin p. 14). Musicians strategically select their lyrics, instruments, and vocal tone to successfully transmit their vision and stir emotion within the listener. Once music is composed it converges together in a harmonious manner that is pleasing to the ear and warrants it universal appeal. However, not all music is equally fashioned or evenly pleasing.
Due to music’s achievable complexity, numerous genres have been created that vary from culture and constantly adapt to violate a listener’s expectations. Regarding the vast array of music types, individuals discover certain music satisfies them more based upon differing personal preferences. In 2007, Stalinski and Schellenberg found that listeners are inclined to remember music they find pleasing. Selective hearing employed by individuals could cause such differences in recognition. Generally speaking, a person can gauge relatively quick whether they find a song sonically soothing or cacophonous. Once judgment has been passed on a musical piece, attention may either be heightened, reduced or remain unchanged . It is possible that increased attention from enjoying a tune positively affects memory encoding and association allowing for easier recall.
Another explanation for the relaxed nature of recalling music could be prompted by the elicited emotions from music. Experimentation has found that arousal affects memory consolidation and encoding (Rickard, Wong & Lauren, 2012). Thus, music that produces vivid sentiments, within a listener, is likely to be transported from the working echoic memory and stored amid the brains vast long-term memory unit. Later, when a person is experiencing a mood they will recall music that corresponds to their appropriate mood (Schellenberg et al., 2007). Emotions flood the minds of humans daily. Emotional fixation is easily met, and soon an individual may become consumed by their present mood. It is no wonder why individuals recall music that correlates to the emotions occupying their mind. Once engrossed in a certain mood, cravings for complementary mood affecting items, like music, occur and can only be satisfied by acquisition of what is desired.
Moreover, strong emotional arousal from music facilitates memory formation and retrieval (Eschrich, Müente, Altenmüeller, 2008). This emphasizes music’s influence in memory processing and the emergence of retrieval cues such as emotional association with recollection. Music is easily remembered in response to emotions assigned to it and by how much a person enjoys a particular work of music.
Music’s relationship with memory is further examined by analyzing the effects musical training has on auditory and visual memory. Producing music requires the decoding and memorization of complex patterns such as harmonic and melodic patterns within notes. On a similar note, playing an instrument requires passion and continual rehearsal. Through rigorous repetition, striking certain notes becomes a routine motion encoded in one’s muscle memory. Making music entails utilizing the brain’s cerebral cortex, but does this “mental workout” aid in memory for subjects other than music composition?
In a recent study of music training in secondary schooling it was found that extended music preparation enhances auditory and visual memory (Bongard, Grube, Kreutz & Roden, 2014; Degé, Wehrum, Stark, Schwarzer, 2011). A valid point since music training requires a great deal of memory usage when remembering fingerings, bowings/breathing patterns, rhythm patterns, and chord progressions, to name only a few components. Music is primarily categorized by its auditory component, signifying its advantage in refining echoic memory. However, it may be of a surprise to learn that visual memory is improved with regular music training, but music is not solely auditory, instead music constitutes a foreign language that is read on paper, just like the language in which this paper is written. Learning a new language requires one to employ their semantic memory and visual memory when learning to understand and read characters of the language. Music composition is a trying task; yet, when grasped, music will not only produce melodious songs, but also foster advances in visual and auditory memory.
This leads one to question what further benefits music may have on memory? In 2014, Bigand, Moussard and Rochette conducted a longitudinal study on deaf children discovering that music education contributes to development of auditory attention and perception that prove useful in linguistic processes. These findings imply that music can be perceived without necessarily being sensed, since the subjects of this experiment lack the ability to hear properly. This speaks to the minds capability of forming auditory memories in alternative manners perhaps by feeling the vibrations in one’s teeth or by feeling instruments pulsing reverberations in the ground. Such new findings between music and memory establish new opportunities for therapeutic applications especially for those who lack the sensation to hear.
Music engulfs inquiring minds due to its complexity; however, music’s intricateness has hindered researchers from completely understanding its effect on the human species. Recently, much has been learned of music’s impact on memory. Research has proven a link between music recollection and likability as well as emotional association. Furthermore, music is advantageous to human memory by enhancing both working and long-term memory specifically in terms of auditory and visual memory. In addition, such studies have yielded innovative data; however, there is much left to be learned regarding music’s impact on memory. Music is nearly as multifaceted as the mind, new discoveries are made daily, much like the ever-changing development of music. For this reason, further experimentation is crucial in obtaining additional knowledge about music’s relative effect on memory in order to exploit music’s beneficial facets.
Altenmüller, O. E., Eschrich, S. & Münte, F. T. (2008). Unforgettable film music: The role of emotion in episodic long-term memory for music. BMC Neuroscience, 9, 1-7.
Bongard, S., Grube, D., Kreutz, G. & Roden, I. (2014). Does music training enhance working memeory performance? Findings from a quasi-experimental longitudinal study. Psychology of Music, 42(2), 284-298.
Bigand, E., Moussard, A. & Rochette, F. (2014). Music Lessons improve auditory perceptual and cognitive performance in deaf children. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 8, 488-497.
Degé, F., Sschwarzer, G., Stark, R. & Wehrum, S. (2011). The influence of two years of school music training in secondary school on visual and auditory memory. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 8(5), 608-623.
Levitin, Daniel J. (2006) This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of Human Obsession. Dutton, New York.
Rickard, S. N., Velik, L. & Wong, W. W. (2012). Relaxing music counters heightened consolidation of emotional memory. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 97(2), 220-228.
Schellenberg, G. E. & Stalinski, M. S. (2013). Listeners remember music they like. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 39(3), 700-716.