According to Beethoven:
“Music can change the world.”
If you’re a fan of Bob Marley, his thoughts are:
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
Whether you believe music can heal the world or wipe out your aches, there’s one clear thing about music: It can have a wildly positive impact on your memory, especially when it comes to protecting against cognitive decline.
Not to mention, music also comes with a slew of other health benefits.
While everyone has a different taste for music with genre preferences that come as varied as our food preferences, here are five ways that music universally affects your memory.
5 Ways Music Affects Your Memory
#1. Music improves your memory by stimulating your mind
Music provides a way to exercise your brain. And numerous studies about music and memory tell us the two are closely tied together.
According to a John Hopkins otolaryngologist:
“There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does. If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.”
Better yet, play an instrument.
It’s like a full-body workout for your brain, covering auditory, visual and motor functioning. Which largely contributes to building your neuroplasticity and providing you with long-term positive effects.
Check it out:
What’s more, research out of Northwestern University found that musical training offsets some of the effects of aging.
More specifically, two of the effects of aging – memory and your ability to hear speech in noise – are impacted (and we all know how notorious hearing loss is).
On top of that, a study from the University of Kansas analyzed 70 healthy people, aged 60 to 83, in varying musical experience.
What did the research reveal?
The folks with high musical activity throughout their life preserved cognitive functioning in advanced aging, which was learned from a handful of tests, including the Wechsler Memory Scale (WMS VR-II), Trails A and B (measuring cognitive flexibility) and Boston Naming Test (BNT).
Even if you don’t engage with music as a musician, simply listening to it comes with its share of memory benefits.
#2. Music helps you recall feelings and emotions
The second way that music affects your memory is it elicits feelings and emotions from a particular period of your life. Naturally, the period of your life when you listened to specific music.
This is important because you can use it to recall certain times from your past and create deeper memories in your present daily life, both of which will help your cognition in the future.
If you’re skeptical, there’s science to back it up.
A study by Baird and Sampson found that music is an effective stimulus for eliciting autobiographical memories.
What’s more, Petr Janata’s study out of UC Davis revealed that there’s an increased level of mental activity in Alzheimer’s patients when listening to music, which explains why patients enduring increased memory loss can still remember songs from way back in their past.
And here’s one more: another study by Vinoo Alluri and colleagues found that your brain responds to music across widespread regions in your brain, including auditory, motor and limbic regions.
More specifically, the regions relevant for self-referential appraisal and aesthetic judgments can be successfully predicted.
All this to say: your past emotions are recalled when you listen to autobiographical music.
You can see this in action in one of the most moving clips from the documentary Alive Inside, which demonstrates the transformative power of music in dementia patients (like Henry) simply by listening to autobiographical tunes.
Check it out:
Neurologist, Oliver Sacks, who’s featured in the film said:
“Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory… It brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.”
How can you benefit from this?
Incorporate emotionally touching and autobiographical music into your daily life and make a playlist to share with your loved ones, so you can create deeper memories and have a better chance of recalling them in the future.
#3. Music helps you recall faces
Another way music affects your memory is it improves your memory of people’s faces.
A 2015 study out of Italy found a link between listening to emotionally charged music and enhanced memory. The researchers studied 54 non-musicians who listened to joyful or emotionally touching music, rain sounds or silence while studying hundreds of faces.
The people who listened to emotionally touching music experienced deeper memory encoding, followed by those who did the exercise in silence.
What does this mean in practical terms?
That’s not to say, you should carry around a playlist any time you meet someone new or want to recognize a face.
But it is worth noting that a certain kind of music (aka emotionally touching music) activates a part of your brain related to deeper memory and emotions.
And if your cognition becomes impaired later on in life, this tactic could be useful for recognizing the faces of your support system.
Not to mention, it could be useful for memorizing or studying something visual, which brings us to our next topic of using music while learning.
#4. Music helps you learn
A fourth way music affects your memory is it helps you learn.
(And lifelong learning is a hugely important factor for keeping your growth experiences and neuroplasticity strong and vibrant.)
How does music help you learn?
For one, it trains your brain to process more precise sounds, which helps you learn new auditory-based skills.
In fact, a study conducted by Nina Kraus of the Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern University found that music helps kids learn language and speech skills.
What’s more, learning to play an instrument strengthens your brain’s ability to pick up on speech nuances. In other words, music improves your ear for learning speech. The pitch, timing and timbre of music train your brain to narrow on auditory details.
So, if you’re interested in the benefits of lifelong learning and picking up a new language (tip #9 in 19 Tips for an Amazing Life After Retirement), consider learning to play an instrument, too.
If learning an auditory-based skill isn’t your speed, no worries. Simply listening to music while you study helps you learn practically anything.
Does the kind of music you listen to while learning matter?
In a word: yes.
According to renowned Bulgarian psychologist, Dr. Georgi Lozanov, the type of music you listen to while studying impacts your learning and memorizing ability.
His musical genre of choice: classical.
Baroque music with a rate of 50-70 beats per minute, to be exact.
It’s so effective that Dr. Lozanov created a widely adopted teaching method in the 70s, dubbed “Suggestopedia,” designed to accelerate learning while listening to soothing background music (of said genre).
If classical music isn’t your thing, listen to recorded nature sounds or background music that’s soothing and relaxing while you learn.
It’ll still improve your focus and endurance during your study session. The trick is to steer clear of music with lyrics that could compete with your concentration.
And if you’re wondering how music affects the memory of people who are already experiencing cognitive decline, read on. It provides benefits there, too.
#5. Music is used as therapy for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients
Finally, for people who suffer from cognitive decline, music therapy is a solution for a sound (pun intended) reason.
Music is the last part of your brain that Alzheimer’s touches. In one study, leading author, Linda Maguire, states:
“Musical aptitude and music appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.”
For one, simply listening to upbeat music helps improve your mood. According to one study, it takes just two weeks to boost your mood and happiness.
The catch is, you’ll want to steer clear of sad music. Research from the UK and Finland found that, while sad music provides feelings of comfort and pleasure, it can cause negative feelings with a deeps sense of grief (and we all know how difficult the grieving process is).
And for patients trying to preventing cognitive decline, memory loss comes with a heavy load of moodiness, including stress, depression and anxiety.
So much so that stress is critically involved in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, where the relationship between stress and Alzheimer’s is characterized by a vicious cycle.
So, music therapy, in the simplest form of listening to music, can do wonders for Alzheimer’s patients by:
- Lifting spirits and lessening depression
- Reducing stress, agitation and anxiety
- Boosting self-confidence
- Improving sleep
Not to mention, when dementia and Alzheimer’s patients lose verbal abilities, music can act as a form of communication between the patient and loved ones.
And if you take it a step further and sing as a form of music therapy, it improves both your mood and memory.
In fact, Dr. Teppo Särkämö at the University of Helsinki in Finland conducted a study that revealed a 10-week music coaching intervention helped dementia patients improve their working memory and executive function and orientation, while alleviating depression.
What does this mean if you don’t have dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Firstly, Alzheimer’s touches in one in three of us at the end of our life, so it’s likely that you or someone you know will benefit from the effect of music on your memory.
Plus, Alzheimer’s is a disease that sadly hacks away at your brain for 10 to 20 years (and your brain changes a staggering 30 years) before you even experience any symptoms, which makes the proactive effort worthwhile.
Bottom line: Whether you’re experiencing cognitive decline or not, music is a proactive way to save your memory.
How do you leverage the power of music to boost your memory?
The key takeaway to all this is two-pronged:
- Use music to boost your health and cognitive health today.
- Use music to boost your memory in the future.
In terms of the present moment, make it a point to incorporate upbeat music into your daily life regularly. The benefits of music will improve your overall health in retirement.
As far as taking care of the future you, literally make a playlist of songs from your life that evoke positive memories. If you’re wondering where to start, collect tracks from when you were 15 to 25 years old, which can prove to trigger the most music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs).
On that note, happy listening (and playing if you can).
P.S. Here are 7 other ways to improve your memory
Studies have shown that music produces several positive effects on a human's body and brain. Music activates both the left and right brain at the same time, and the activation of both hemispheres can maximize learning and improve memory.
The research, reported in Music Perception, found that if musical training does have a positive effect on a person's visual working memory it does so via the “detour” of improving their musical working memory. The study further showed that, conversely, a generally strong working memory makes musical training easier.How does music improve focus? ›
Music helps you concentrate by blocking out distracting noise. It acts as a stimulus that engages the brain, which modify your mood and provides a rhythm that keeps you alert. This serves to make the task at hand more engaging, less dull, and easier to concentrate on.Why is it good to listen to music while studying? ›
Stimulate the brain
Because music activity serves as a cognitive exercise, it has been proven that individuals who study music or have musical training early tend to have better memory and healthier brains and are less likely to have debilitating diseases like Dementia and Alzheimer's.
In a nutshell, music puts us in a better mood, which makes us better at studying – but it also distracts us, which makes us worse at studying. So if you want to study effectively with music, you want to reduce how distracting music can be, and increase the level to which the music keeps you in a good mood.How does music improve children's memory? ›
Musically trained children perform better at attention and memory recall and have greater activation in brain regions related to attention control and auditory encoding, executive functions known to be associated with improved reading, higher resilience, greater creativity, and a better quality of life.How does music affect your brain? ›
It provides a total brain workout. Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.How music affect your life? ›
How does music affect our lives? Music has the ability to deeply affect our mental states and raise our mood. When we need it, music gives us energy and motivation. When we're worried, it can soothe us; when we're weary, it can encourage us; and when we're feeling deflated, it can re-inspire us.Why music is good for mental health? ›
Researchers from the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development have found that music increases memory and retention as well as maximises learning capabilities. Our brains trigger particular emotions, memories and thoughts, which often leads to more positive effects toward mental health.What music helps you study and remember? ›
Classical: The best music for concentration
As far as concentration goes, science dictates that classical music is the best for aiding studying.
Studies have found that listening to music can help calm your nervous system and lower cortisol levels, both of which can help reduce stress. And the same goes for making music; research shows that creating can help release emotion, decrease anxiety and improve overall mental health.How does music reduce stress and anxiety? ›
A 2020 overview of research into music and stress suggests that listening to music can: lower our heart rate and cortisol levels. release endorphins and improve our sense of well-being. distract us, reducing physical and emotional stress levels.What are the pros and cons of listening to music while studying? ›
- PRO: Boosting Your Productivity. ...
- PRO: Improving Your Mood. ...
- PRO: Finding Interest in Routine Tasks. ...
- PRO: Drowning Out the Voices in Your Head. ...
- CON: Creating More Distractions. ...
- CON: Damaging Your Ears. ...
- CON: Isolating Yourself. ...
- CON: Making Your Mind Forgetful.
Music improves sleep through calming parts of the autonomic nervous system, leading to slower breathing, lower heart rate, and reduced blood pressure.Is it better to study with music or silence? ›
Almost all research in this area has shown that problem solving and memory recall tasks are performed better in silence than with any kind of background noise. Random background noises, however, prove even worse.Does music help you read? ›
It has been found that background music while you study can improve your reading comprehension and your ability to learn the material. Many students report that they concentrate better when listening to music while they are studying. Music can also increase your energy levels.What music does to kids brain? ›
Music ignites all areas of child development and skills for school readiness, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills. Learning to play a musical instrument can improve mathematical learning, and even increases school scores.How does music affect students in school? ›
Music helps improve student's performance
In the seasons around exam time, most students develop different levels of anxiety and stress, which at times affect their study patterns. Listening to music will help them 'cool' down and reduce stress/anxiety. With improved study patterns, the student will perform better.
Music may expose the child to challenges and multi-sensory experiences which enhance learning abilities and encourage cognitive development. In particular, music can also engage cognitive functions, such as planning, working memory, inhibition, and flexibility. These functions are known as executive functions (EF).How does music stimulate the brain? ›
One of the first things that happens when music enters our brains is the triggering of pleasure centers that release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy. This response is so quick, the brain can even anticipate the most pleasurable peaks in familiar music and prime itself with an early dopamine rush.
A group of Dartmouth researchers has learned that the brain's auditory cortex, the part that handles information from your ears, holds on to musical memories. A group of Dartmouth researchers has learned that the brain's auditory cortex, the part that handles information from your ears, holds on to musical memories.Does music improve studying? ›
This evidence suggests that music is more likely to benefit your studying and your performance if you enjoy it. It's still considered to be related to a better mood rather than an effect on your intelligence or ability.What are the three responses to music? ›
Elicited and conveyed emotion in music is usually understood from three types of evidence: self-report, physiological responses, and expressive behavior.Why music is good for mental health? ›
Because of its rhythmic and repetitive aspects, music engages the neocortex of our brain, which calms us and reduces impulsivity. We often utilize music to match or alter our mood. While there are benefits to matching music to our mood, it can potentially keep us stuck in a depressive, angry or anxious state.Where does music affect the brain? ›
Music activates just about all of the brain
Of course, music activates the auditory cortex in the temporal lobes close to your ears, but that's just the beginning. The parts of the brain involved in emotion are not only activated during emotional music, they are also synchronized.
Music raises your mood
But music does more than just give you swagger — it can improve focus, raise morale, and generally make you feel happier. It's actually been proven by science. In one study, researchers played different styles of music while they asked people to identify various emoji faces as happy or sad.
It provides a total brain workout. Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.Why is music so powerful? ›
The release of endorphins is also thought to be one of the reasons music is so emotionally powerful. Endorphins are hormones that are released by the brain in response to pain or stress. They are responsible for the “runner's high” that people experience and they can also be released when listening to music.How does sound affect the brain? ›
In particular, noise increases the level of general alertness or activation and attention. Noise can also reduce performance accuracy and working memory performance, but does not seem to affect performance speed.How does music affect the brain while studying? ›
In a nutshell, music puts us in a better mood, which makes us better at studying – but it also distracts us, which makes us worse at studying. So if you want to study effectively with music, you want to reduce how distracting music can be, and increase the level to which the music keeps you in a good mood.
Studies have found that listening to music can help calm your nervous system and lower cortisol levels, both of which can help reduce stress. And the same goes for making music; research shows that creating can help release emotion, decrease anxiety and improve overall mental health.Does music help you sleep? ›
Music improves sleep through calming parts of the autonomic nervous system, leading to slower breathing, lower heart rate, and reduced blood pressure.How music affects the brain and your emotions? ›
Happy, upbeat music causes our brains to produce chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which evokes feelings of joy, whereas calming music relaxes the mind and the body.How does music affect the brain psychology? ›
“Music and the Brain” explores how music impacts brain function and human behavior, including by reducing stress, pain and symptoms of depression as well as improving cognitive and motor skills, spatial-temporal learning and neurogenesis, which is the brain's ability to produce neurons.Why is music so emotionally powerful? ›
Especially when it's music we love, the brain releases dopamine while listening. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It also helps us to think and plan, helping us strive, focus, and find things interesting.