• Alyna Ooi

Music and Memory

Sometimes it only takes one song to bring back a thousand memories. Have you ever heard of one song that evokes your memories every time? I suppose we all do :)

'Fireflies' by Owl City is the song that does it to me. Every single time I listen to it, it brings me 10 years back of time. I think of the times when I was in my primary school's computer lab. I can remember myself listening to this song on repeat during those times, a sign of overexposure. Every time I've heard it since then, I will picture the same scenario in my head. Do you have the same experience?

The time machine...

Hear a song from decades ago, and bam! - you are transported back to a particular moment, and you reminisce about it. You feel like you are actually there and you are suddenly filled with a whole lot of emotions. Without the music, you would never recall anything that is emotional or impactful. This is an experience one with music-associated memories will surely undergo. The music and memory relationship has become known among many and researches have been done to help the elderly that are suffering from dementia in improving their memory by associating them with music.

The Brain

The part of the brain that is associated with memory is the hippocampus accompanied with the frontal cortex which plays a big role in determining what we remember. Well, do you sometimes feel memorising song lyrics or notes for pieces are easier than memorising school work?

The reason it is so easy to memorise is because the words of the lyrics are accompanied with a consistent beat and the notes for the pieces have a rhythm to it that we can catch easily. We are constantly storing memories in our subconscious and unconscious, but it is due to a matter of retrieving them to determine whether we truly remember something.

This article gives an example where people will sing the 'ABCs' in order to recall where a letter is in the alphabet or even the alphabetical order. Personally, I memorised the elements of the periodic table from the song made by ASAP science - 'The Periodic Table Song'. And till this day, I can still instantly remember it whenever I sing the song. (Just the first 20s haha)


(emotion + music = memory)

To bring back a certain memory, when people listen to music that has been associated with experiences of emotions, it triggers part of the brain to evoke memories.

There are different kinds of memories, the explicit and the implicit memories. The explicit memories are the deliberate retrieval of the past and are simple memories. Basically anything in your conscious mind and such as what happened a few minutes ago. Implicit memories are stored in the unconscious and a more unintentional form of a memory.

For example, I remember myself in my primary days because I was happy and I paired that strong emotion with the song. That scenario happened over 10 years ago and it still appears vivid to me. Funny how it gives me a hard time to remember what I had for breakfast just yesterday and how detailed memories from 10 years ago appear to me. It was because there were no strong emotions paired to me eating breakfast.

(movement + music = memory)

Another reason why music evokes these memories is because music is related to movement. A study has found that music activates many parts of the brain. The cerebellum and the cerebrum that involves our motor skills were stimulated when listening to music. This happens with the limbic system of the brain, which controls the emotions and this proves how music, emotion and movement are interconnected.

The power of music

Music can take us back and help us relieve a moment and feel the feelings. During our adolescence, we have the most powerful memories of all. Adolescence is when our hormones are raging and everything feels intense. The intensity felt then was remembered by our brain, so when we came across the music when we listened to it from those years, our brain would react accordingly.

End Note

Do you have such experiences? An experience that you can never forget whenever the song is played? What were your major moments that were forever tied to a song? Or maybe a song that takes you back to a certain year, a person. The song that gives you happiness or maybe not? Remembering something from long, long ago.

As I randomly listen through my playlist, I wonder, what memories of mine will be evoked this time.