The Connection Between Music and Your Memory

Music and memory have a tremendously strong link. Hearing an old song can take you back decades in the blink of an eye. Here are four recent psychology studies which demonstrate the intimate link between music and memory.

1. Singing aids language learning

The link between music and memory is so strong that it can help you learn a foreign language. Research by Ludke et al. (2013) found that people trying to learn Hungarian, a notoriously difficult language, performed much better if they sang the Hungarian phrases rather than just saying them. The researchers think that the melody may provide an extra cue which helps embed the memory.

2. Music and memory: the injured brain

People who have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), such as in a car accident, often have problems with memory. Music is increasingly being tested as a way to help bring back forgotten autobiographical memories.

3. Widespread brain activation

One of the reasons the link between music and memory is so powerful is that it activates such large areas of the brain. A recent brain imaging study found that music activated the auditory, motor and limbic (emotional) regions (Alluri et al., 2013). The study found that whether their participants were listening to the Beatles or Vivaldi, largely the same areas of the brain were active. The motor areas process the rhythm; the auditory areas process the sound, while the limbic regions are associated with the emotions (Alluri et al., 2013).

4. Music can take you back two generations

Classic hits can easily take you back to your teens and twenties. Most people have particularly strong memories of this time in their lives–psychologists have called it the ‘reminiscence bump’. But, perhaps surprisingly, one study has shown that people also have mini reminiscence bumps for the music their parents listened to, and even for their grandparents’ music (Krumhansl & Zupnick, 2013). The study’s lead author, Carol Lynne Krumhansl, explained:

“Music transmitted from generation to generation shapes autobiographical memories, preferences, and emotional responses, a phenomenon we call cascading ‘reminiscence bumps’. “These new findings point to the impact of music in childhood and likely reflect the prevalence of music in the home environment.”