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How Music Improves Your Memory

Last Updated: July 06, 2021 / by Julie Adams

Music affects your brain in many positive ways, and over the years, several studies over the years have proven conclusively that it makes you happier, smarter, and a lot more productive. Whether you need to motivate yourself before cleaning the kitchen, or just wallow in a moment of sadness, there is music for every mood. But the benefits don’t just stop at boosting your mood or productivity.

It turns out music can help you remember better - and even improve your grades! The idea that music lessons have positive effects on your brain development and memory has long been a source of interest for many investigators, and the benefits of sending your kids to music lessons are almost priceless.

So, let’s take a look at some of the latest findings on how music improves your memory. But before we get there, why do we remember and forget?

The Science Behind Remembering

Research shows that when we focus on something, the information is sent as an electrical impulse that travels through our brain. The message travels through synapses to reach the necessary neurons that process the information. 

The repetition of these electrical impulses running across the brain creates a memory and establishes a bond between the brain’s neurons.

Why Do We Forget?

Have you ever been desperate to remember something, but for some reason, it just doesn’t stick? In order to improve your long-term memory, it’s important that your hippocampus (a region in your brain where you store your long-term memories) is stimulated by paying attention.

There are many reasons why we may not be able to remember something, and none more than stress.

Numerous studies explain that paying attention is very similar to a meditative state of mind and influences the working memory.  But, when you experience stress, the stimulation of the hippocampus is interrupted and makes it harder to remember what we’ve learned.

Think of it like this; our brains get cluttered with daily worries and stress which counteracts the memory-making process. While we stress, our brain is too busy analyzing “what-if” scenarios and not spending enough time on the working memory.

To fight against the negative effects that stress has on our memory, we need to create calm and relaxing surroundings to work in. This is where the power of music comes in!

How Does Music Help Our Memory?

Music enhances the functionality of the brain by stimulating the formation of neurotransmitters dopamine and lowers the levels of cortisol in your blood.

These lower levels of cortisol mean that you are coping better with your stress as it relieves feelings of anxiety. In other words, the music helps you lower your stress levels as you approach situations with a more positive attitude.

A positive mindset means that you have less mental clutter that disrupts the formation of long-term memories. This maintains a healthy balance of hormones, which is needed for the development of your brain’s neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters play a vital role in the formation of your memory as well.  The stimulation of the chemical balances helps to carry the electrical impulses in your brain.

Different studies have also found that music develops both sides of the brain, instead of just one like many other activities. This development improves the communication between the left and right hemispheres.

As the communication between the brain as a whole improves, the brain starts functioning at its maximum capacity. This then helps to develop and improve your long-term memory.

It’s possible to understand why these changes in your brain boost your mood, help you to pay attention, and minimize your stress. Once you are focused and positive, remembering what you learned becomes a lot easier!

What Music Should We Listen To?

The Mozart Effect is a well-known theory in the world of science on which many studies have been performed. These studies delivered a wide variety of results, including contradicting theories.

The research found that listening to Mozart’s music before completing a task will help you solve the problem faster.

Whereas, other studies indicated that listening to Mozart won’t influence your test results at all, but it will calm you.

In spite of the contradictions in results, scientists do agree on one thing - listening to music, in general,  enhances your ability to think and reason with new information.

According to William R. Klemm, a recent study may explain the contradicting results. The results showed that people who were trained in classical music learned better with pop music.

However, when tested, they did better with classical music. The opposite was true for people with no classical music training. 

And here's the reason why...

Classically trained musicians pay more attention to the music’s structure and will find it difficult to ignore it. Due to their training, they will devote cognitive resources to analyze it instead of studying the new information. This makes pop music the better (and less distracting) option for them while learning. It's easier to ignore and will blend into the background. 

On the other hand, people who lacked musical training learned better with classical music because of the relaxed atmosphere it created without the complication of them trying to analyze and understand the music.

Classical and relatable music without lyrics has proved to be the best option for most people because lyrics are distracting. It also has a better ability in calming your mind.

The Science of Music

It’s possible to see why so many scientists are fascinated with the effects music has on the human brain. Because music stimulates both sides of the brain, it's more effective in processing and remembering new information. 

Naturally, the type of music that you listen to while learning will have different effects from one person to another. And even though actual improvements in test results depend on the individuals, thorough testing has conclusively proven that music undoubtedly has a great impact on improving anyone's memory and attention.

About the Author: Julie Adams

I am a mom, a music lover and teacher from Tampa, FL. After completing a Bachelor of Music in Performance Arts, I traveled for several years before returning home where I started offering private piano and singing lessons as extra income. I met my husband in 2009 and 2 years later moved to Dallas where we settled down and I started focusing on vocal training to aspiring singers and performance artists of all age groups. I still enjoy playing the piano very much, and in my spare time you will catch doing some horse riding, drawing, doing some light reading, or just spending quality time with my family.

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