Music and Memory
| By Robert Seith
CWK Senior Producer
there is a change in brain structure that lasts, [but] parents
should keep things in perspective and not expect tremendous
-Dr. Carol Drummond, a clinical
| 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
“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,”
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
- 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
- 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.
Parents Need to Know
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Enroll your child in after-school or summer classes that
teach drawing, dance, musical instruments, singing or theater
- 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.
for the Arts
Partnerships in Education
University of Hong Kong
for the Arts