Music and Memory

Education Feature
Music and Memory
By Robert Seith
CWK Senior Producer

“Perhaps there is a change in brain structure that lasts, [but] parents should keep things in perspective and not expect tremendous academic gains.”
-Dr. Carol Drummond, a clinical psychologist-

Three years ago when Garrett Mclendon was 14, he began learning how to play the guitar. At about the same time, his grades improved, especially the grades in his English class.

“I’m pretty good at regurgitating information like vocab quizzes and stuff like that, just memorizing a word, just looking at what the definition is and kind of going from there,” Garrett says.

Did Garrett’s music lessons help improve his memory? A new study, published in the journal Neuropsychology, suggests it’s possible. In the study, a group of 90 boys with similar backgrounds and grade-point averages were compared. Those who took music lessons scored 15% higher in a verbal memory test.

“It could be that studying music improves attention, concentration, sequencing … there’s any number of conclusions that could be drawn from the study. But their data does suggest that there is a correlation between verbal memory and musical practice,” says Dr. Carol Drummond, a clinical psychologist.

In fact, a study published in the journal Nature found the region of the brain behind the left ear is known to be larger in musicians. That part of the brain is also responsible for verbal memory.

“Some analogy has been made that it’s like cross-training in exercising – that by working different parts of your brain actively, you can improve functioning in many different areas,” Dr. Drummond says.

Experts say memorizing is a skill that improves with practice. Music lessons may be one way of getting that practice.

“You get going and then you can kind of look at it … look at it one time and then play it back,” Garrett says.

Still, further study is necessary in order to prove conclusively a connection between music and memory. Either way, that’s OK with Garret’s mother, Vivian.

“I enjoy listening to him and putting together something, picking out chords or whatever it is that they do and putting something together,” she says.


New research from the Chinese University of Hong Kong indicates that studying music can improve a child’s memory and boost his or her academic ability. For their study, researchers evaluated 90 boys aged 6 to 15, half of which were members of the school orchestra with up to five years of musical training. After administering verbal recall and visual memory tests, researchers found that the boys with musical training recalled significantly more information than the non-musical boys. In fact, those boys with the most musical training had the best on verbal memory. In a follow-up study one year later, the boys who gave up music could not match the verbal memory of those who continued, yet they did not lose the verbal memory advantage they gained while they took music lessons.

For years, experts have touted the importance of arts programs in relation to a child’s development. Now new evidence suggests that studying the arts in school may help strengthen children’s academic and social skills in such a way that it makes it easier for them to achieve in higher-level courses, such as mathematics. The comprehensive report, titled “Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development,” also found that arts education is particularly beneficial for young children along with students who are economically disadvantaged or struggling academically.

Researchers from the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) reviewed 62 studies of how dance, music, drama, visual arts and other arts education affected student achievement. They found that strong arts programs are linked to improving communication and critical-thinking skills, school climate and student motivation for learning. The report cites the following relationship between arts programs and major academic fields:

  • Reading and language development: Certain forms of arts instruction enhance and complement basic reading instruction aimed at helping children “break the phonetic code” that unlocks written language by associating letters, words and phrases with sounds, sentences and meanings. Reading comprehension and speaking and writing skills are also improved.
  • Mathematics: Certain music instruction develops spatial reasoning and spatial-temporal reasoning skills, which are fundamental to understanding and using mathematical ideas and concepts.
  • Fundamental thinking skills and capacities: Learning in individual art forms, as well as in multiple arts experiences, engages and strengthens such fundamental cognitive capacities as spatial reasoning, conditional reasoning, problem-solving and creative thinking.
  • Motivations to learn: Learning in the arts nurtures motivation, including active engagement, disciplined and sustained attention, persistence and risk-taking, and also increases attendance and educational aspirations.
  • Effective social behavior: Studies of student learning in certain arts activities show student growth in self-confidence, self-control, self-identity, conflict resolution, collaboration, empathy and social tolerance.
  • School environment: Studies show that the arts help to create the kind of learning environment that is conducive to teacher and student success by fostering teacher innovation, a positive professional culture, community engagement, increased student attendance and retention, effective instructional practice and school identity.

What are some other reasons why you should encourage your child to take an active interest in the arts? Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the arts in America, cites the following benefits for youth who participate in the arts at least three hours on three days each week:

  • They are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement.
  • They are three times more likely to be elected to a class office within their schools.
  • They are four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair.
  • They are three times more likely to win an award for school attendance.
  • They are four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem.
  • They are twice as likely to read for pleasure.
  • They are four times more likely to perform community service.

And according to the National Endowment for the Arts, participation in arts education programs has a positive impact on at-risk youth by deterring delinquent behavior and truancy problems while also increasing overall academic performance.


As a parent, what steps can you take to increase your child’s level of participation in arts programs? The Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE) suggests these tips for inspiring a young artist at home:

  • Teach your child songs, and enjoy singing them together.
  • Play different kinds of music from the radio or your own collection, and encourage your child to enjoy singing and dancing along with the music.
  • A simple paper and pencil or crayon can offer your young child the chance to express himself or herself. Even a scribble is a good beginning – the important point is for your child to feel encouraged and to develop the habit of writing and drawing. Your child’s skill will improve as he or she naturally compares his or her work to other pictures and words he or she sees. Drawing and writing together will help your child see that you value those activities as well.
  • Provide pictures and books available for your child to enjoy and value. Your local library can be a terrific source of material at no cost to you.
  • Practice photography with adolescents. Buy a disposable camera with which your child can practice. Talk to your child about composing a photograph – what is included and what is cut out through the choice of the photographer. Work together on creating family photo albums or other thematic collections.
  • Make videos together. Try organizing the shots ahead of time to tell a story as in filmmaking.
  • Read and write poems. Help your adolescent feel the rhythm in poems you enjoy reading and enjoy the fun of writing together within an organized system of verse. If it is difficult to create your own rhythm, practice by borrowing the verse and rhythm structure of a poem you enjoy and make up new words to fit the poem’s structure.

You can also work with your child’s school in order to encourage artistic and creative expression. The National PTA suggests you meet with your child’s principal or teacher to see what you can do to support an effective arts curriculum in the school. During your meeting, consider asking the following questions:

  • Does the district have a written, sequential arts curriculum that is used in grades K-12?
  • Does the curriculum include different aspects of art, such as art-making, discussions about the history of art, learning how to interpret art and the nature of art?
  • Does the curriculum have specific goals? Does it follow a sequence? Does it build on what students have learned in previous grades and prepare them for the next grade?
  • Does the school support its arts program through art textbooks, visual reproductions, films and slides?
  • Does the arts program draw upon resources in the community?
  • Does each student receive arts instruction from a qualified teacher for an adequate time period? (The National Art Education Association recommends at least 100 minutes per week for elementary students.)
  • Is the school’s arts program evaluated regularly for effectiveness? Are teachers given feedback to help them improve instruction?

Participating in community-wide efforts to promote arts education is another way to help your child gain an artistic advantage. CAPE offers these suggestions:

  • Most communities have arts festivals, craft fairs and even seasonal celebrations that feature music and dancing. The more opportunity your child has to see the arts in action, the more ideas he or she will get about how he or she can participate and contribute.
  • Attend presentations at professional venues (theater for younger children and adult dramas, comedies and musicals for older children; symphonies; jazz ensembles; dance companies and art exhibits) to help your child experience excellence in art.
  • Enroll your child in after-school or summer classes that teach drawing, dance, musical instruments, singing or theater skills.
  • Check out books from the library that tell stories about visual artists, dancers, actors and musicians. This will introduce your child to the arts and help him or her feel like he or she “knows” various artists.
  • Help your child understand art forms that were developed by people of your own racial or ethic heritage, or talk about family members who had a particular talent or interest in an art form (maybe your child’s grandfather loved to sing or his or her uncle was a good storyteller). Ask your child what art form he or she enjoys doing the most and encourage him or her to pursue it.
Americans for the Arts
Arts Education Partnership
Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education
Chinese University of Hong Kong
National Endowment for the Arts
National PTA



Downloading Copyrighted Music

Education Feature
Downloading Copyrighted Music
By Robert Seith
CWK Senior Producer

“I really think that the music companies are overreacting. I still buy the same number of CDs that I would before I learned about downloading music online.”
-Jonathan Morse, 18-

A couple of clicks, a few minutes to download and you’ve got a copyrighted music file – a song for free!

“Pretty much everyone that I know downloads music on their computer,” 18-year-old Jonathan Morse says.

Millions of teen do it, but some say it’s illegal.

“It’s stealing from the musicians,” says Noah Pine, 18.

Some say it’s OK because it’s so easy.

“For me, it feels like you’re not stealing when you’re just downloading something off the computer,” 14-year-old Avi Gelfond says.

Others argue that it’s OK as long as it’s only one song per album.

“There’s no reason to buy an entire CD for $15 to $17 for one song,” says Tova Gelfond, 18.

And still others say it’s OK because it only amounts to a few dollars.

“I mean, downloading a song or two of a particular artist is not going to hurt them that much,” Morse says.

Experts admit that parents may be persuaded by the same arguments: Everyone’s doing it, it seems harmless and it’s easy.

“[But] if you believe that stealing is wrong and you allow your children to do this or do it yourself, then certainly you’re not adhering to the values you’re trying to teach them,” says Dr. Carol Drummond, Ph.D., a psychologist.

Experts suggest that parents sit down with their children and talk about the musicians who created that song, the work the musicians put into it and how getting paid for that work is how the artists make their living.

“Because that’s how kids develop a conscience. That’s how they develop empathy for others and the rules and values under which they’re going to operate,” Dr. Drummond says.


By Suki Shergill-Connolly, M.Ed.
CWK Network, Inc.

The excuses are familiar: “Everyone is doing it.” “It’s harmless.” “It’s easy.”

Many parents don’t think it’s a big deal when their children download copyrighted music from the Internet. In fact, more than 60 million Americans obtain music illegally using “peer-to-peer” networks like Napster, Inc. But a new ruling from the U.S. District Court may be enough ammunition to make parents take a closer look at their children’s online activities.

According to the court’s ruling in The Recording Industry Association of America v. Verizon Internet Services, entertainment companies the right to get an individual’s name, address and phone number if they have evidence he or she is using the Internet to get or pass on their copyrighted works. They can then use this information to pursue legal action against those who download or upload the illegally obtained music files.

Unfortunately, many parents and teens may not be aware of copyright infringements when it comes to the music industry. The Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) definition of copyright is the protection of the original expression of an idea, whether it is expressed in the form of music, a painting or written material. A copyright is infringed when a song is made available to the public by uploading it to an Internet site for other people to download, sending it through an email or chat service or otherwise reproducing or distributing copies without authorization from the copyright owner.


Even with the breakup of Napster, Inc., pirating music via the Internet is still a popular pastime, as evidenced by a 2002 USA WEEKEND magazine poll of more than 60,000 U.S. teens:

  • Of the teens interviewed, 19% frequently download music, 26% occasionally download music and 55% never or rarely download music.
  • Of the teens interviewed, 54% “see nothing wrong” with downloading music from the Internet. An estimated 10% say “it cheats the artists and shouldn’t be done,” while 15% agree “it cheats the artists, but I still think it’s OK.”
  • Of the teens interviewed, 5% don’t understand the issues involved in copyright infringement.

As a parent, it is your responsibility to explain to your child why downloading music without paying for it is an illegal act. Music United for Strong Internet Copyright, a network of songwriters, musicians and performers dedicated to preventing the illegal reproduction of music, suggests discussing with your child the following reasons why he or she should not download free music:

  • Stealing music is against the law. For centuries, civilized societies have granted artists, authors and other creative people the right to own and control the original work they produce, be it paintings, poems, songs or any other form of literary or artistic expression. In the United States, copyright protection is guaranteed under the Constitution as well as the Copyright Act. Recorded music is specifically protected by these laws, which means it is against the law to make unauthorized reproductions, distributions or digital transmissions of copyrighted sound recordings. The penalties for breaking these laws are stiff, particularly when digital recordings are involved. Criminal penalties for first-time offenders can be as high as five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Civil penalties can run into many thousands of dollars in damages and legal fees. The minimum penalty is $750 per song.
  • Stealing music betrays the songwriters and recording artists who create it. A lot of people who copy and distribute music illegally try to rationalize their behavior by arguing that the people who make recordings are all rich anyway, and that music should be free. For the artist, the hard work requires not only a major emotional and intellectual commitment, but also long hours, intense concentration and real financial risk. We like to talk about the imagination, soul and courage involved in creative work. But making music is also about career and financial well-being.
  • Stealing music stifles the careers of new artists and up-and-coming bands. Another rationalization for stealing music is that illegal copying is a victimless crime that really doesn’t hurt anyone. Tell that to the struggling young musicians in a garage band who can’t get signed because record sales are down. Or tell it to the young singer-songwriter whose career dead-ends because people would rather download his or her music for free. Making records is an expensive undertaking. So is building a career. If people aren’t willing to pay for the music they love, the record companies will find it increasingly difficult to commit the kind of resources it takes to discover and develop new talent.
  • Stealing music threatens the livelihood of the thousands of working people – from recording engineers to record-store clerks – who are employed in the music industry. Songwriters and artists, whether established or up-and-coming, aren’t the only people hurt by illegal copying. In the United States alone, the music industry employs some 50,000 people, and very few of them are rich rock stars. Stealing music also threatens the livelihoods of the thousands of technicians, CD-plant workers, warehousemen and other non-musicians who are employed in the music business helping to create and deliver the music you love.

Prevention on your part is key to ensuring that your child doesn’t break the law by illegally downloading music. You can help your child resist the urge to steal by following these simple strategies cited by Children’s Hospital Medical Center of Akron:

  • Teach your child about ownership at a young age. Explain that people have a right to their own property and that it is wrong to take something that belongs to someone else, whether it’s “shoplifting” from a store or downloading music from the Internet.
  • Teach your child how he or she can go about getting what he or she wants without stealing. Suggest that your child ask you for things that he or she wants, but remind him or her that you may not always say “yes.” Consider offering your child the opportunity to earn the money he or she needs to purchase a new CD by doing chores around the house.
  • Be a good role model. Set a good example for your child by asking before you borrow things. If you tell your child that downloading music for free is wrong, don’t let him or her catch you “borrowing” software from work to download on your personal computer.
  • Develop an open relationship with your child. Make every effort to communicate effectively with him or her. Children who are close to their parents are more likely to take on their beliefs, morals and values than children who don’t have a close relationship with their parents.
  • Recognize honest behavior. Make every attempt to praise your child for being honest. The more you praise your child’s honesty, the more likely he or she will continue to be honest in the future.

Children’s Hospital Medical Center of Akron
Music United for Strong Internet Copyright
Recording Industry Association of America
USA WEEKEND magazine