Why do we remember song lyrics so well, but not school work?

Over the past four weeks at Penn State, I have been attacked with an abundance of information. Information on where classes are, what to study for a test, what time a club starts and so on. As I continue to forget little pieces of information in my classes, I realized I can still recite the lyrics to American Pie (a song that came out when I was only three years old). So why can we remember song lyrics so well, but not information we need to know in class?

We have something called “cement” memory and it can only store so much information, so when we learn something new it is hard for it to get “stuck” in your cement memory. Therefore the things we learn in bio don’t make the connection and we can easily forget about it. But the main thing is that as we get older we want to learn more but our memories are in fact too full. In a New York Times article it states Learning becomes more difficult as we age not because we have trouble absorbing new information, but because we fail to forget the old stuff, researchers say.” Therefore maybe our memories are filled with lyrics of songs we heard over and over as children and now our memory is too full. In this same article it talks about an experiment done with mice stating, “The researchers focused on two proteins — NR2A and NR2B — long known to play a role in the forging of new connections in the brain. Before puberty, the brain produces more NR2B than NR2A; in adulthood, the ratio reverses.”

While we might not be trying to learn the lyrics of songs, sometimes a catchy tune can get stuck in our heads and make the connection that other information can not. Therefore maybe start making catchy songs to help you study, because the brain can’t hold that much memory.

16 thoughts on “Why do we remember song lyrics so well, but not school work?

  1. Pingback: Philosophy Of Thought And Logic 2015-2016 - The Collaboratory

  2. Aidan James Bitterman

    I have always wondered this. I know every word to almost every Luke Bryan song, but I can’t remember certain dates in history or statistics that I need to know for tests. The catchy tune thing makes sense. I guess that’s why some people try to memorize things by putting them into songs.

  3. Millie Rachel Dweck

    My family and I always joke around with my brother because he can name every man in the major leagues but he can’t remember a sheet of information for a history test. I have one of the worst memories, including learning lyrics. Continuing along with your theory though, I think another reason that learning lyrics are so much easier than learning facts for school is because lyrics are accompanied with melodies and music. The music and the melody are the initial parts that get stuck in our minds, following the lyrics. If anyone is having trouble learning information for school, try pairing them up with a catchy tune, it will make it much easier to learn!

  4. Caroline Gail Stacks

    I found this article extremely interesting, being that I am a singer, and have always found it extremely easy to memorize songs for a performance, but impossible to memorize information for tests. My mom always told me to make up songs to memorize the information, and I did find that it helped, but only if the tune of the song was really catchy. It’s really interesting to see this information, because I am the same way! Other than that, here are some other Study Hacks for remembering other information for an exam!

  5. Hailey Tully

    I always wondered the same thing! I couldn’t figure out why when trying to study for a history exam I could never retain any of the information I was reading, but as soon as Friday by Rebecca Black was turned on there I was subconsciously singing along without ever learning the words.

    When you stated, “But the main thing is that as we get older we want to learn more but our memories are in fact too full.” I don’t want people to get the wrong idea and panic, thinking “Were not going to be able to memorize anything anymore?!” because thats completely false. “The human brain holds about one billion neurons, which combine to make over one trillion connections, and each connection helps to store multiple memories. All together, this means that the neurons in one human brain can hold about 2.5 petabytes of data – the equivalent of 300 years of continuous television recording on your DVR. [ It might be difficult to permanently store the material learned in last week’s class, but limited available storage space is probably not the issue.]” So, for example we might remember the quadratic formula for the test next week but will have no clue what it is if were asked about it in 5 years. Our memory basically tries to hold on to the more important things and let go of the irrelevant ones.

    And the reason for a student having trouble learning the new material but being able to memorize song lyrics like me is simply because the song lyrics were imprinted in your memory first. Shown by the mice study, “when the researchers induced young mice to produce more NR2A (making their brains more like those of adult mice), the young mice had trouble forming new connections and making new long-term memories at the expense of old ones.”

  6. odh5019

    This post is so relatable! I am able to remember practically every Taylor Swift song she ever released with out even trying that hard, but when it comes to math formulas I am blank. However, I did some research and it is possible for a person to remember everything they ever learned, thought or heard. This ability is called “Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory” and today there are 56 people known to have the ability. This ability is not widely understood and extremely rare though I think it would be fascinating to be able to remember everything I ever experienced.

  7. Kelly McDonnell

    I’ve always wondered this same question! I was interested to read right as I saw the title. There have been many times in my life as I’m sitting down attempting to remember facts and information for a test and it seems impossible. Then I listen to a song and the lyrics come naturally. The point you made about your memory becoming full is actually really interesting and something I had never thought of. I’m definitely going to try to start making songs to help me memorize my schoolwork! Thanks for the information!!

  8. Rebecca Danielle Schneider

    I liked your blog topic because it’s definitely true and relevant to us Penn State students! I never knew that it was called “cement memory” so that was cool to learn. I’m the same way; I know almost every lyric to Britney Spears old songs even though her music came out forever ago. That’s a good idea about making catchy songs to help us study! Personally, I like to make mnemonic devices to help me remember terms. Both would work! This blog definitely made me think about how limited our memory is and how we can strengthen it.

  9. Alyssa Hope Cooper

    I found this blog very interesting because this always happens to me. I can remember song lyrics from years ago, but I can’t remember information for my test the next day. I never understood who knew why that happened. I always just thought it was easier to remember song lyrics because it has a good rhythm to it and you can remember it by that. So when I would study, I would try and make a song. But it never worked. It is interesting to find out the real reason why that happens. I never knew that one’s brain could become full and that is why it is harder to memorize things as you get older.

  10. Colleen Byrne

    I’ve always wondered why this happens!! I always figured that song lyrics were stored in a different part of the brain than information we learn in school, but I guess not. It is a bit off-putting that my memory could become full, does that mean I will slowly forget things I learned when I was younger or will I be unable to remember anything people tell me when I’m older?

  11. Jessica Nicole Greenhut

    When I first read the title of this post I was immediately intrigued because I know every lyric to every song, even if I’ve only heard the song once or twice. It would have been interesting if you looked into how things click into cement memory even if we only heard the song a few times. I found it interesting that you said it is harder to remember things when you’re older only because we are overloaded with memories. Is this because we only use one part of our brain to store memories? Thanks for the interesting post I really enjoyed it!

  12. Alexandra Carley Spanier

    I thought this was a very interesting article because my parents always laugh at how I know my whole iTunes play list but I still can’t remember something that I learned the other day. I really relate to this because I use songs I know to remember information. For example, when I was in the third grade I had to memorize all the rivers in the United States,so I made it link with a song I know. Sometimes I even make up my own beat. It really helps me to remember information. I really wonder though if there is a way to open up our brains more that way we can forget some of the past we remember and make room for the new.

  13. Jiamin Shan

    I forget all kinds of things all the time, and now I even developed a habit – I assume I lose something for sure every time I leave a place, and think what I have lost. I am glad that I am not the only one who forgets about things. However, I wonder besides the storage of memory, does forgetting and remembering relate to other things as well? I may assume that it is easier for me to remember lyrics because I am more willing to remember that or I am happy when singing, which makes remembering the lyrics a happy thing for me to do as well. Probably a further research on the relationship between memories and moods will be helpful.

  14. sdm5399

    I tutor a lot of language students, and this idea of cement memory appears to be some kind of mechanism within their minds that provides a barrier to leave their ¨native¨way of creating thought. Certain ways of remembering how to speak, or to think of something in terms of words rather than pure thoughts, seems to block their ability to absorb new information in terms of something other than English. I´m going to do research for information on whether or not ¨cement memory¨can be counteracted in some way!

  15. das5959

    I loved this article because I too, very often find myself remembering all the lyrics to songs I’ve heard, but can’t for the life of me remember what I needed to study for a test. I find that the combination of schooling systems focusing on grades rather than connections, we cram more things into our volatile short term memory, and less in the location that all those song lyrics are located. In your article, you mentioned the protein created in your brain for establishing new connections. I wonder if that could be synthesized and taken as a pill when you are older, and what the affects of taking such a pill would have on the brain and body? With so much useless information on the Internet, I hope that scientists can help me remember important things like birthdays instead of weird al songs.

  16. Margaret Mary Kreienberg

    This is funny because just the other day my roommate said that she can barely remember songs lyrics so she was freaking out because remembering biology facts seemed next to impossible. I just looked at her and laughed because song lyrics are so easy to remember for me. But, I had no idea that our memory could become too full. That makes me a little concerned. What is going to happen in the future if my memory is full? I am going to become very forgetful? These are very interesting questions to ask. Perhaps I will do some digging of my own and see what I can find.

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