I Can Remember Song Lyrics But Not My Notes?

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Every student has asked the question at some point in his or her academic career: Why is it that I can so easily remember the lyrics to every song on my iPod, but I can't remember a single thing I learned in class? A CNN Health article discusses this exact question, and others related to music and memory. The article suggests that evolution plays an underlying role in this perplexing notion--stating that musical instruments were first used approximately 80,000 years ago, and humans were singing far before that. The article states that parts of the brain that involve music recall evolved before the parts of the brain that involve language. Because of this, our early ancestors would make up songs to remember every day tasks such as recipes and directions. Thumbnail image for musicnotes.jpg

But now, as modern humans, both of parts of our brains--the part dealing with music recall and the part dealing with language--have evolved well past their capacity thousands and thousands of years ago. So, that leaves the question, why are we still much more easily able to remember the lyrics to hundreds of songs but not remember what we learn in class just as easily? A hypothesis that I have about this notion stems back to evolution. Knowing that early humans used songs to remember often vital tasks for survival, it could be possible that those who had a better memory when it came to music were the ones who did in fact survive. Those who could remember musical tunes to preform tasks correctly were more likely to do said task correctly than those who were not as fortunate when it came to music recall. As a result, those who could remember the songs were much more likely to survive and pass on their genes, thousands of generations later resulting in a human population that is generally better at remembering things when they are set to music. 

Anything involving the brain is a complicated matter, and exploring this question is interesting. While the answer as to why we are so easily able to recall song lyrics but struggle to recall our notes is certainly not a clear cut one, but one thing is for sure: Maybe we should all set our lecture notes to our favorite music. 

1 Comment

Hi Lauren! I found your entry so interesting...especially since I have studied and thought about this topic before. I have one of the world's worst memories (probably one of the reasons why I hate science so much) but, for some reason, I'm able to remember and sing lyrics to a million different songs, even ones from my childhood that I haven't heard in years. I read a really interesting book called "Musicophillia" by Oliver Sacks that goes into great detail on this subject...I found it very interesting and I definitely recommend it if you're interested in this subject.

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