If you’re anything like me, you’re mind is a music library and you constantly have a song stuck in your head. Sometimes I can never remember when I first heard the song, or how it ended up on replay in my head. I figured since this was such a relevant occurrence for me, that I’d do a little more research on the topic and perhaps find out if this type of memory might be more of a phenomenon than I originally thought.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was taking AP World History. At the same time my younger sister was being home-schooled. She was 12 at the time, and had an extremely intense curriculum for a 6th grader. Part of her curriculum was learning the timeline of the world. This might sound overwhelming to people, as it was to me, but she was given a recording of a song that covered the entire history of the world. The song was about 13 minutes in length and covered all major events from every time period. Being my stubborn, 10th-grade self, I told my mom that I was fine every time she suggested that I learn the song. It was incredibly corny, as most of these songs are. May rolled around, which meant that my AP exam was coming up. After almost an entire year of hearing this song in the background (my sister had to have it memorized by the end of the year) I finally gave in and decided to actually learn it. To my shock, it helped me to retain much of the material I had to know for my AP exam.
Amazingly, this isn’t the only time this has happened to me. If you asked me to, I could sing you the US presidents, the 50 states, and all the countries around the world by continent and region. This isn’t something I ever planned to be able to do, but for some reason this information has stuck with me for years. The question I’m asking now is– why?
In a study that I found, researchers focused on several English classes to find out how accurate this method of learning actually was. Vocabulary words were presented to two separate groups; the experimental group to rhymes and melodies that the researchers invented while the control group was taught vocabulary words in a traditional manner. A month after students were presented with this first set of words, they were tested on their retention of an entirely new set of words. Both groups were taught the second set of words in the same manner as they were for the first set of words.
What the researchers found was fascinating in the sense that the experimental group performed significantly better than the control group when tested on their retention of vocabulary words. Not only did the experimental group of English students retain vocabulary words better when music was involved, but this group also had a better outlook on their English course, and an overall higher performance rate in the English class.
So is it a bad idea to try and use music to improve retention of information? I think not. There is obviously a reason I can still rattle off all of the presidents in order from Washington to Obama. Music is powerful, and I definitely think that if we can better utilize our ability to learn the lyrics to the latest hits on the radio, we might be much better off in the realm of long term memory.