Boost Memory and Learning with Music


When we hear a familiar song, we are often able to recall a moment from our past that is connected to that tune. Favorite songs tickle our memory in various ways; your child may even complain of “getting a song stuck in her head,” which shows that music is easily ingrained in our memory.

Music has been found to stimulate parts of the brain, and studies have demonstrated that music enhances the memory of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, including a study conducted at UC Irvine, which showed that scores on memory tests of Alzheimer’s patients improved when they listened to classical music.

It’s possible, then, to use music to help your child retain information and enhance learning. Chris Brewer, founder of LifeSounds Educational Services and author of the new book Soundtracks for Learning, says sounds can help to hold our attention, evoke emotions, and stimulate visual images. “Students of all ages—that includes adults— generally find that music helps them focus more clearly on the task at hand and puts them in a better mood for learning,” says Brewer.

Brewer calls the use of music throughout the day “positive mood management” and suggests that various styles of music are appropriate for different types of activities. For instance, she recommends using upbeat popular music to motivate learning, especially songs with lyrics that encourage positive thinking. When studying, writing, or reading, play instrumental music to sustain concentration, she says. Classical music of the Baroque era, like Bach, Handel or Mozart work particularly well. “Music can help shift energy levels, too, so playing upbeat music can boost tired minds and bodies while slower, more reflective music helps calm and focus,” says Brewer.

Gaetan Pappalardo, a teacher, writer, and consultant at www.onkidwriting.com, also uses music in a variety of ways, particularly to strengthen language. “You can’t dig out some old, dusty music and expect kids to hop, skip, and jump to the beat,” says Pappalardo. These days, your child is exposed to many genres, from movie soundtracks, video game tunes, and music from Guitar Hero and Rock Band, for instance. If you plan to use music to sharpen memory or enhance a lesson, “you’ve got to meet them halfway,” he says.