Study Tip: Using Music to Succeed

By , February 22, 2011 8:19 am

[This tip was provided by Dr. Andrew Granade, professor of Music History in the Conservatory of Music and Dance. His first-hand look into the ways music helps improve memorization can help you no matter what your major may be!]

As an undergraduate, every study session I attended with my friends included music.  That statement probably does not seem so strange considering that I was a music major and was often studying for music history tests where we were required to “name that tune” when the professor played a random selection of music on a test.  But even when we got together to learn the names of the nations in Africa or the progression of the Vietnam War or even physics formulas, music was playing.  Today, in our world of digital media permeating every waking moment, music is even more omnipresent in our lives and in our studying.

Knowing that facet of college life, my ears perked up last summer when researcher Brandon Ally published his preliminary findings on the impact of music on the memory of Alzheimer’s patients.  With over 5 million Americans living with the disease, it is likely that you have encountered someone with Alzheimer’s; in my life it was my grandfather.  I watched over the years as his memory slipped away, but was always struck that even to the end of his life we could still talk about the music of his youth – he still remembered the hymns he sang in church and the swing that played when he courted my grandmother. Professor Ally discovered that my experience was not rare – many Alzheimer’s patients have a connection with music – and decided to put the anecdote to the test.  His team used lyrics from recent children’s songs and simply allowed the subjects to read the text by themselves, hear it read by a young woman, and then hear it sung by the same woman.

The outcome?

Hearing the lyrics read provided the same amount of recall as the subjects reading the lyrics themselves.  But when the group heard the lyrics sung, suddenly their recall of the lyrics skyrocketed.  The reason?  Music is stored throughout the brain; in other words, when you learn music you are using more areas of your brain, which in turn gives your brain more areas to access when it comes time to recall the information.

Can you see where this is going?

One of the most powerful ways to study is to music:

  • Need to remember a particularly tricky piece of information for a test? Create a mnemonic device (think “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” which is often used to remember the treble clef notes on the lines – E,G,B,D,F) and then sing it to a simple children’s melody.
  • Listen to music connected to the topic at hand and it will linger longer in your memory.  If you are studying information related to Native American history and culture, listen to Native American chant while you study.  Learning about medieval architecture? Listen to pieces of Gregorian chant.
  • Music is naturally connected to movement and when you link them, powerful learning occurs. Learning the make-up of atoms?  Physically become protons and electronics and neutrons and move to upbeat dance music.

Need places to get music? Our library subscribes to numerous databases that let you listen to years of music completely free.  Check out this LibGuide for ideas.  Don’t just let music be a wash of sound in the background of your studying.  Harness it and use it to make your studying more effective!

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