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How Music Enhances Memory: The Psychology of Learning and Memory

Music can be a powerful tool in reviving memories and creating new ones.

Memory can seem mysterious. A person who may have trouble remembering casual acquaintances’ names can sing all 870 words of American Pie, Don McLean’s pop classic, without missing a single refrain of “drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.” And that song—or any of your own personal favorites—may take you back in time, reviving distant memories.

That’s the power of music. Researchers are exploring its deep connections with learning and memory and discovering its possible effects and uses. Here are some of those findings so far.


  • Don’t Say It—Sing It
    When learning a new language, singing the words and phrases can better cement them in your memory. In one study, researchers assigned participants learning Hungarian to “listen and repeat” phrases by singing, speaking, or rhythmically speaking them. The singing group performed the best on the language tests that followed, prompting researchers to conclude that “a ‘listen-and-sing’ learning method can facilitate verbatim memory for spoken foreign language phrases.”1
  • MEAMs Testing
    In one study of music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs), researchers concluded that music was more effective than verbal-evoked memory cues in helping patients with brain injuries retrieve forgotten details. As part of the research, patients listened to a string of No. 1 hits spanning five decades. “The findings suggest that music is an effective stimulus for eliciting autobiographical memories and may be beneficial in the rehabilitation of autobiographical amnesia …” wrote researchers A. Baird and S. Samson.2
  • Make Mine Mozart—or Mars
    Some students swear by music as a study aid, often to their parents’ skeptical reactions. But music can boost concentration and learning, researchers in Japan found, as long as it’s the right music. And the right music could be that of Yo-Yo Ma or Bruno Mars; what matters is that it’s music that appeals to the listener. “When doing self-study, selecting the appropriate music would help raise the performance. Even in a classroom, when it is not a lecture-style class, but it is a practice-style, it might help students by allowing them to listen to music while solving problems,” wrote researchers Fumiya Mori, Fatemeh Azadi Naghsh, and Taro Tezuka.3
  • Try Something New
    Learning to play an instrument can improve focus, memory, and problem-solving abilities.4 There’s also the side benefit of wowing friends and family members with your newly gained piano- or bass-playing ability. Adult learners perform in recitals, too. And that’s a joyful memory you won’t soon forget.

Considering a Psychology Degree?

If you enjoy reading up on topics like music and memory, you might be interested in learning more about careers in psychology, and how to get there. A BS in Psychology can lay the foundation for fulfilling work in research, adult day care, behavioral management, and home healthcare—to name just a few of the many career options.

Top-notch bachelor’s in psychology degree programs offer concentrations to help you blaze a path to your own special interests. Walden University’s online psychology degree program features concentrations in fields such as Applied Psychology, Criminal Justice, Human Services, and Workplace Psychology. If your long-term goal is to earn an advanced psychology degree, there’s a Preparation for Graduate Studies concentration, which covers all major areas of psychology—from human development to professional ethics—as you learn to conduct research, analyze data, and present your findings.

When you are ready to embark on a meaningful career and help make a difference in the lives of others, a BS in Psychology program can take you there.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a BS in Psychology degree program online with multiple concentrations to help you meet your personal and professional goals. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a flexible, convenient learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,