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Research on musics effect on memory

“Memory is a mental system that receives, stores, organized, alters and recovers information for sensory input” (Kirkweg, 2009). Music has many effects on memory, but what are the effects. People listen to music on a daily basis but never really know what music does for their memory or don’t really care. I care about music and think that everyone should. This concept is important to study from a psychological perspective because everyone wants to have better memories, and also in psychology scientists are always trying to make things better. In my thesis paper I will show how studies have been done to show what music does for the memory. Learning is very important. According to Dr. Roy J. Paget music can do 60% of the teaching work in about 5% of the time (Paget, 2006). In this thesis paper I will try to explain how music affects memory. By showing what music does for memory I hope individuals will listen to music more.

Many people have context-dependent memory. Individuals who have this type of memory forget some things when the context or even the environment is changed. Background music has recently been found to affect memory, thus joining the list of context-dependent memory contexts (Balch, Bowman, & Mohler; Smith 1992). Studies were also done by (Balch, Bowman, & Mohler; Smith 1992). In these studies individuals were shown some words along with a specially selected group of music in the background. After this test it was noticed that the individuals remembered fewer words compared to when one piece was played consistently. This study shows that music definitely impacts memory. If everyone listened to music more, imagine how much better our memory would be.

Another topic that is closely related to context-dependent memory is the effect of tempo from music on memory. According to The Journal of Experimental Psychology, two experiments were done to see how tempo affected memory. Both experiments used same-context condition and different-context memory. In the same-context condition individuals were shown words using one specific tempo. In the different-tempo context the individuals were given the same words but different tempos throughout the experiment (Marmel 2010). The results were similar to the test done by (Balch, Bowman, & Mohler; Smith). In the same-context condition individuals remembered more words, but in the different-tempo context the individuals remembered less words. This showed that some people have tempo-dependent memory and that even without music training tempo has a great effect on memory.

One way that the memory can be helped is by having music training. Most people do not get musical training outside of band or orchestra in school. A study was done by Schlaug, Jancke, Huang, and Steinmentz in 1995 that compared the brain structures of individuals with and without music training. Their results showed that “individuals with music training tended to have an enlarged left planum temporal when compared with individuals without music training” (Ho, Cheung, and Chan 2003). According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, “the planum temporal is an area of the cerebral cortex between Heschl’s gyrus and the sylvian fissure that is involved in speech and is usually larger in the cerebral hemisphere on the left side of the brain (Merriam Webster). Studies done by Frisk and Milner have shown that in patients with brain damage, the left temporal lobe was shown to primarily mediate verbal memory, and visual memory mainly by the right temporal lobe. If the neuroanatomical change is associated with the localization of cognitive function according to the American Psychological Association, then individuals with music training should be better at verbal memory. Since the left temporal lobe in individuals with music training is more developed than the right temporal lobe it is easy to see that they would have better verbal memory. Since the left planum temporal becomes enlarged, one can say that music training plays a very important part in memory if it makes part of the brain larger.

Music affects the memory in remembering events in the past and draws on emotions. When we hear certain types of music, strong memories that we either cherished or hated are brought back. An example of this is someone having an aunt that they didn’t know and she died but have heard so much about her and learned that her favorite song was Old McDonald Had a Farm. Most likely wherever the person hears Old McDonald Had a Farm it will bring about certain emotions. According to the Journal of Biology, “Many researchers believe that music is encoded in the brain by the perceptual memory system, which organizes auditory information into melodies and rhythms,… which encodes meaning (Jancke, 2008)”. This shows how much effect music has on memory.

Music can help the memory in cases of Alzheimer’s. According to the article, The Effects of Music on Memory by the Missouri Western State University, a study was done to find out if music could help to improve the face name recognition of Alzheimer’s patients. During the test a therapist would sing or play an instrument for the patients to a song that was familiar, so they could sing along. After, the patients were given a face name recognition test, which showed that the majority of the patients who took the test did better at name face recognition (Kirkweg 2009). A simple example is Mary’s Grandmother Ann suffering from Alzheimer’s and who is also unresponsive. Mary goes and sings a song for her grandmother, and Grandma Ann becomes responsive all of a sudden. According to the Harvard Health Letter, even though patients in the late states of Alzheimer’s are unresponsive, whenever they hear certain music’s that they are familiar with the patient starts to sing (Mind and Music 2001) This once again shows the power of music.

Throughout my research for this paper I have learned so much about music and how it affects the memory. It was found out that music affects the memory in remembering past events and evoking emotions, in Alzheimer’s patients responsiveness, and in music training. All the evidence that was found to show how music affects memory is effective and relevant. I believe that more studies should be done in the area of music and the brain, because there are so many ways that individuals could benefit.

Balch, WR. (1992). Music-Dependent memory in immediate and delayed word recall. Department of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Ho, Yim-Chi, Mei-Chun Cheung, and Chan. (2003) Music Training Improves Verbal but Not Visual Memory. American Psychological Association 17.3 Retrieved from

Jancke, L. (2008). Music, memory and emotion. 7(21), Retrieved from doi: 10.1186/jbiol82

Kirkweg, S.B. (2009). The effects of music on memory. Unpublished manuscript, Department of psychology, Missouri Western State University, Missouri. Retrieved from

Marmel, F. (2010). Priming in Melody Peception. 36(4), Retrieved from

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2011. Planum Temporal. Meriam-Webster. Retrieved from

Music and the Mind. (2001). Harvard Health Letter, 27(2), 4. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Paget, R. (2006). The role of music in learning (Reader version), Retrieved from

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