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4 Reasons Why Music Helps Improve your Memory

Whether you need to summon a bit of enthusiasm while cleaning the bathroom, or wallow in the sadness of heart break, there is music for every moment. But it turns out that music can also help teenagers achieve better grades, and help people get through tough life events.

Most of us have a favourite playlist for jogging, cooking and friendship dramas. But there are more benefits to being musical than you may think, with scientists only just beginning to understand the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the therepeutic and emotional benefits of a catchy tune.

Musical Training Helps You Learn and get a Better Memory

Musical training is in no way directly related to developing skills required for specific careers (unless your dream is to become a classical violinist), but scientists do think that learning an instrument teaches students how to learn more effectively. In a study examining 40 low-income Chicago freshmans, those who participated in the school’s musical program were found to better respond to sound stimuli than those in the athletics club [1].

Musical training was also associated with improved language skills and overall brain development. Additional evidence shows that learning an instrument can boost young people’s numeracy and literacy skills. While education funding cuts target ‘luxury’ programs such as libraries and musical sessions, evidence suggests that governments should keep supporting school’s musical endeavours.

Why is it that our Brains Enjoy ‘Sad’ Music?  

A study conducted at the Free University in Germany by Lila Taruffi and Stefan Koelsch has found that we gain four different rewards from listening to sad music [2]:

  1. We receive the “Reward of Imagination”: we get the feeling that we are expressing our emotions in a similar way to the singer we are listening to.
  2. We regulate our emotions by experiencing sadness of the music we hear, which in turn then gives us an emotional boost.
  3. We experience empathy for the singer or composer of a sad song, due to feeling that we are sharing and understanding the artist’s sadness.
  4. We can feel sad with there being no ‘real-life’ implications that usually come with the devastating life events that cause our own sadness.

The three most popular situations participants chose to listen to sad music were: emotional distress, social problems, and reflection. Sad music can help us alleviate our own pain, and enjoy and emphasize with the artists emotions that are expressed in our favourite songs. 

Heavy Metal Music can also be Therepeutic and Improve the Emotional Experiences tied to Bad Memories

What about a heavy metal playlist? A study at the University of Queensland in Australia found music expressing anger and aggression can also improve your mood when angry [3]. The study involved 39 regular listeners of extreme music – heavy metal, punk rock, screamo, and hardcore music – who said they listened to these kinds of music at least 50% of the time they had a music player on.  

When they were made to feel angry by recalling particularly frustrating situations and being provoked by the study coordinators with sensitive questions, listening to extreme music helped calm them down. The reason was that the participants were used to using these genres to experience a wide range of emotions, from sadness to anger, to relax. Heavy metal to calm down? Yes – the science says so!

Musical Benefits

Music is used for all sorts of situations, from cleaning to break-ups, and can help people increase their self-esteem, improve their communication and interactive skills, reduce depressive symptoms, and help young students get better grades. As Aristotle wrote, music “makes the hearts of men glad: so that on this ground alone we may assume that the young ought to be trained in it.”

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[1] Slater, J., Strait, D., Skoe, E., O’Connell, S., Thompson, E. & Kraus, N. (2014) Longitudinal effects of group music instruction on literacy skills in low-income children. Plos Online DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113383

[2] Taruffi, L. & Koelsch, S. (2014) The paradox of music-evoked sadness: an online survey. Plos Online DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0110490

[3] Sharman, L. & Dingle, G. (2015) Extreme metal music and anger processing. Front. Hum. Neurosci. DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00272

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