Made Music Studio has worked on a number projects revolving around education, targeting youth ranging in age from early childhood through adolescence. It’s a great challenge: how can we meaningfully enhance systems of learning with sonic?
Then I started to wonder… how is it that I can remember the melody and lyrics to every early-2000s boy band single (which my angsty teen self didn’t even enjoy!) but recalling all American Presidents in chronological order (which I was required to learn several times over in school) leaves me scratching my head? I did some research and found a few interesting answers.
First, patterns: researchers have found that playing unfamiliar music stimulates the superior temporal gyrus, which is the part of the brain responsible for pattern recognition; and the nucleus accumbens, where expectations and prediction-making happen. When a test subject heard a song she liked, these two regions fired up and connected with each other in dramatic fashion.1
Song form can narrow down the problem space and help you get to a solution more quickly.
Then, consider melodic and rhythmic structures in music and song — these are also patterns. With melody, we set structure and pitch. With lyrics, we set a temporal structure and often a rhyme scheme as well. For songs to be effective — or even make musical sense — these two elements must align. For instance: if you’re trying to recall song lyrics and the words you’re thinking of just aren’t matching the melody like you remember, there’s a good chance you’re wrong. Song form (often, an ear-pleasing composition of melody and lyric) can narrow down the problem space and help you get to a solution more quickly. That’s the beauty of Schoolhouse Rock!: Our brains are built to detect patterns and make associations, and sonic stimuli strengthen those parts of the brain.
Let’s get a little more scientific. A study of brain function focused on two proteins, called NR2A and NR2B, that help create new connections in the brain. Older brains produce increased levels of NR2A, which was shown to help create short-term memories more easily, but also makes it more difficult to weaken the brain’s connection to older, long-term memories. Essentially, “learning becomes more difficult as we age… because we fail to forget the old stuff.” What we learn pre-adolescence sticks with us for a lifetime.2 These findings suggest that integrating the memory triggering powers of sound with classroom learning when we’re young can actually help knowledge recall long into our old age!
Implementing sonic tools in early childhood education can ensure that what we learn in our youth actually sticks.
Now how does this ladder back to what we do at Made Music Studio? We know that using music and sound strategically in the design of education tools for young people can dramatically impact students’ abilities to remember information and strengthens the parts of the brain that are crucial to our ability to synthesize information, detect patterns, and find solutions. Implementing sonic tools in early childhood education can ensure that what we learn in our youth actually sticks. Hopefully more educators and curriculum designers see the potential here, and with any luck, my children will be able to remember their presidential history with aplomb.
1. Robert Ferris. “Obsessing Over A New Song? Blame Your Superior Temporal Gyrus.” Business Insider. 11 April 2013.
2. Douglas Quenqua. “Older Brain Is Willing, but Too Full.” The New York Times. 21 January 2013.