Why do many people not remember where they put their car keys most mornings, but can sing every lyric to a song they haven’t heard in years when it comes on the radio? Do the lyrics of the songs occupy a privileged place in our memory? Music has long been used as a mnemonic method, that is, to help remember words and information. Before the advent of written language, music was used to orally convey stories and information. Even today we see many examples of this type in the way we teach children the alphabet, numbers or, in my case, the names of the 50 states of the United States.
There are several reasons why music and words seem to be closely linked in memory. First, the characteristics of the music often serve as matrix predictable to help us remember associated letters. For example, the rhythm and time signature of music give clues about the length of the next word in a sequence. This helps narrow down the possible choices of words to remember, for example, indicating that a three-syllable word fits a particular rhythm within the song.
The melody of a song can also help segment a text into meaningful fragments. This allows us to remember longer segments of information than if we had to memorize each word separately. Songs also often use literary devices such as rhyme and alliteration, which make memorization even easier.
When we have sung or listened to a song many times before, it can become accessible through our implicit (non-conscious) memory. Singing the words to a well-known song is a form of procedural memory. That is to say, it is a highly automated process, like riding a bicycle: it is something that we are able to do without thinking much about it.
One of the reasons music is so deeply embedded in memory is because we tend to listen to the same songs many, many times throughout our lives (more, for example, than the times we read our favorite book or watch our favourite movie).
Music is also fundamentally emotional. In fact, research has shown that one of the main reasons people get hooked on music is because of the diversity of emotions it conveys and evokes. Numerous studies show that emotional stimuli are remembered better than non-emotional ones. The task of trying to remember the alphabet, the colors of the rainbow, or musical notes is intrinsically more motivating when it fits with a catchy melody, and later we will remember the concepts better when we establish an emotional connection.
It should be noted that not all previous research has found that music facilitates the recall of associated letters. For example, the first time we hear a new song, memorizing both the melody and the associated lyrics is more difficult than memorizing just the lyrics. This makes sense, given the multiple tasks involved.
However, after overcoming this initial hurdle and exposing yourself to a song several times, more beneficial effects appear. Once a melody is known, the associated lyrics are often easier to remember than trying to memorize the lyrics without the music. Research in this field is also being applied to help people with various neurodegenerative disorders. For example, music appears to help Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis sufferers remember verbal information.
So the next time you put your car keys in a new place, try creating a catchy song that reminds you of their location the next day and, in theory, it shouldn’t be so easy to forget where you put them.
Kelly Jakubowski She is a professor and expert in musical psychology from the University of Durham.
This article was originally published in The Conversation.
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Source: EL PAIS