Music and the Brain 2: Remembering Songs

*Disclaimer: I am writing this blog as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge - 50,000 words in 30 days. My goals with this and other blogs are to write a total of 50,000 words and to present the brain and learning in a less technical way. I don't know if these blogs will lead to a book, but if they do, I will acknowledge anyone who has commented on my blog (with their permission of course!) Please see my questions at the end of this blog, even if you didn't understand this blog!

For the rest of my NaNoWriMo goal, I want to focus on music and the brain - best known as "Neuromusicology". This is a fairly new field, but in my mind, it's the most exciting.

Music & Memories
Why is it that we remember lyrics and/or melodies from our early youth? Is it because of those situations we were in when we first heard those songs? Is it because our minds were so receptive - similar to the arguments that second languages are best learned at an early age? Or, is it something more?

I'd like to share some of my earliest memories of music - perhaps why I acquired such an eclectic taste in music. I'll ask my readers to consider their earliest musical memories. And then, I'll share some explanations of experts who may know why music has affected our memories and our mind so much!

Musical Memories
I'll only bore you with ages five through ten.
  • I'm not sure what came first - bar karaoke or Cal Berkeley's drinking song. Neither one is appropriate for a five year-old, but my father was an alcoholic. We had dinners at his favorite bar, and the drive to his work was long enough for him to teach me his favorite songs. My first karaoke song? "All I have to do is dream" by the Everly Brothers. If you don't know the Cal Berkeley Drinking song, here's a taste. My dad only taught me the part from "Drunk last night...".
  • Fast forward to age seven. I was a young third grader, and my sister was a fourth grader. And, we attended a Catholic school. Back then, the best tease was asking someone if he or she was a virgin. No matter the answer, the asker would laugh. We had no idea what a virgin was, but our favorite song on the radio was "Like a Virgin" by Madonna. When talent show auditions came around, it only made sense that we should create a dance to Madonna's song. Yeah, that didn't go over well, but I'll never forget the lyrics to that song or the time when I finally found out the definition of a virgin!
  • In fourth grade, I discovered the New Kids on the Block. Don't ask me how, but when the band was just starting out as nobodies in Boston (from 1984 to 1987), I had their debut cassette. Why is this strange? Well, I lived across the country in Reno! Anyway, I memorized the songs on that cassette and each one that came after. Who knew that when I was thirty-one, and the group reunited, I could sing every song accurately as I did at ten years-old.
  • In fifth grade, I wanted to be a part of the crowd. That meant learning my crush's favorite song, UB40's "Red Red Wine" and discovering rap music by way of the Beastie Boys. I thought I was so cool, listening to my walkman at every recess. A drunk driver killed my first crush our senior year in high school, and the only song that consoled me was "Red Red Wine".
I grew up listening to country with both my dad and mom, pop, rap, alternative, ska, Christian rap, and R&B. Is it any wonder then, that my Google player could switch from Elvis Presley to Tacoma hip hop artist, Greg Double, with me knowing every single lyric to both songs?

Questions for my Readers
What about you? Thinking back to your early childhood, what were your favorites? How would you describe your musical formation, if there was any at all? I know that not everyone is musically inclined, but if you are, how did you develop your musical taste, and has it changed at all?

Music and the Brain - What the experts say
I love the article by Esther Inglis-Arkell published earlier this year. When we hear a song, especially one that we determine is a favorite, we listen to it multiple times. Of course, that's the simple answer.

To delve a little bit deeper, research has shown that listening to music activates multiple areas of the brain from the part that "analyzes structure" or patterns to the part that determines whether what we've heard should be stored in our long-term memory. Our reward center, the area in the center of our brain that "is responsible for driving our feelings of motivation, reward and behavior" is also activated as is the area of the brain that responds to physical exercise. Yes, music is kinesthetic! Think of all the times you've nodded your head to the beat, tapped your fingers, or tapped your foot. In each case, you have caused your brain to release endorphins, or happy hormones, and to create new neurons.

Music, or more specifically, songs, is more than just art. It teaches us patterns, repetition, rhythm, and even grammar! And, Inglis-Arkell is confident that remembering music is "exactly what the songwriter was trying for"!

Words: : 826 -- Cumulative total= 4,510/50,000 (does not include disclaimer or questions below)

Questions to my readers:
  • Was this blog too technical or too basic?
  • What did you like best/worst about this blog?
  • What questions did you have about this topic after you finished reading, if any?
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