Down the Docks

May 18, 2006

Memory for Music

Filed under: Music — ealing @ 8:34 pm

What lies in the back of your brain?

A couple of years ago, in the middle of 2004, I was driving from York to Newcastle late on a Friday night. I was listening to the radio, probably Radio 3, and they were playing a Handel oratorio, Saul.

I sang an abridged version of Saul when I was in my first or second year at school, some time between 1987 and 1989, fifteen to seventeen years earlier. I don’t remember hearing it in the mean time.

Since I was alone in the car, I started to sing along. Funnily enough, my treble isn’t as good as it was, but I still knew the most of the melody, timing and lyrics. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t terrible either.

What’s striking about this is how little else I can remember of what I learned at that time. I spent more time studying Latin than singing Saul, but I know which I can remember more of. What is it about music that makes it easier to remember?

I found an interesting Radio 4 program about musical memory, which discussed the different techniques people seem to use to recall music. It also brought out the difference between remembering music and remembering words – they’re handled in opposite hemispheres of the brain. My memory for lyrics isn’t bad either, as I can normally dredge up a verse or two for most songs I’ve heard a few times. The really impressive individuals in this area are people like Hermán Olivera, a singer who has memorised about 2000 songs, and can improvise both lyrically and musically.

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1 Comment »

  1. I was one of these people who would know the artist and title of a song on its first few seconds of being played.

    Comment by Lee — May 21, 2006 @ 7:19 pm


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