"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

of Music and Memory

Thinking about music and specific songs leads me to a topic that fascinates me: music and memory. We are all familiar with the idea of couples having one special song -- "our song." That's almost always a piece that began playing when the lovers first met (or it was a tune that neither had heard until they got together). Researchers have made much of the link between music and evocative memories. I've done a bit of reading on this phenomenon, as well as having plenty of personal experience with it. We all know the power of music is real, but the question remains: why is that so?

If you listen to the radio, or to your iPod (or CD player or your Victrola -- whichever), then you've probably noticed that there's a lot more to the mind/music link than just "they're playing our song!" Most of us can recognize songs we like (familiar pieces from a genre we favor) in just a few short notes. You may not be able to "name that tune" or even be sure who the artist is. Many people simply don't feel like storing that information. But you know the song right away. Furthermore, if there's a stronger bond for you (beyond "Dude, I love this song!"), you can immediately gather up a whole batch of associated memories with that record. You may recall exactly where you were when you first heard it, who you were with at the time, whether you were driving or lounging, if it was summer or winter (even daytime or nighttime). If you pay attention to those memories, you'll probably find even more! A certain scent or aroma that links up, too, for instance. You might also remember if you were happy or sad at the time. The point is, given just a few notes from a familiar song, you can lay your hands on an enormous wealth of very clear memories -- even if those memories are decades old! If there is a long-lost love involved, those memories can be downright profound.

Being the curious guy that I am, I'd like to know why! In addition, given this powerful memory tool, why don't we use music to reinforce learning? It certainly has worked for PBS educational programming, so why not in school? Or in workplace training, or adult education? We know that rote learning and dreary practice do get results in classroom situations. Could music somehow make the process better, faster, and funner? I wonder.

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