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Music and Learning

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

Benefits of learning through songwriting, based on neuroscience


Before students can be receptive to learning, there are several basic needs that must be met. Students need to be fed, feel safe, and feel like they belong. Globally, there is rising awareness of how traumatic events can affect learning. Music can be used as a coping mechanism in response to traumatic events and can also build community, trust, comfort, and resilience.

Example: Someone writing a song as a catharsis for processing and expressing feelings after the death of a loved one.

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Engaging with music activates the frontal lobe of the brain, which governs higher order thinking skills. Music lyrics can contain a mnemonic, which is a short patterned association to aid memory recall. These can be embedded in the "hook" of a song.

Example: "PEMDAS" is an acronym for remembering the order of operations. In math, it stands for "Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Divide, Add, Subtract". Taking it further, the acronym could stand for a linguistic phrase to help students remember the order of the letters, such as "Please Excuse My Aunt Sally."

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Engaging long term memory:

Ideas stored in long term memory can be accessed after long durations of time. Based on Ebbinghaus's "Forgetting Curve", the amount of repetition and recall will have a direct correlation to long term retention. The songwriting process involves repetition and recall in every step as a song is being developed. Students are constantly recalling background information, checking for understanding, and applying researched information.

Example: Referring to flash cards when studying for a test and managing which ones are learned or not.

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Figure 3. Graph demonstrating relationship between information acquisition (learning) and memory consolidation through repetition vs forgetting information without consolidation.

Spatial-Temporal Reasoning:

This type of reasoning involves recognizing and being able to navigate and utilize patterns in critical thinking. It is one of the foundational functions of the brain that makes learning possible. Music is based on patterns and is rooted in consonance and dissonance. This is an example of the learning cycle pictured below, where predictions are made, actions are taken, then outcomes are achieved and perceived.

Example: Hearing patterns of chord changes in a song along with changes of instrumentation and rhythm that signal the chorus is coming.

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Figure 4. The 4 steps of the learning cycle aid in recognizing patterns and

using them to understand context in real-world applications.

Linguistic Abilities:

Especially when used with visuals, music has positive effects on second language learning and as cognitive therapy in patients with Alzheimers and memory disorders. Learners are typically able to recall sung language as opposed to language alone.

Example: Recalling the alphabet for a second language set to a melody.

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Figure 5. The cognitive mechanisms involved in verbal learning and memory when combined with music.


Rosenberg N, Greenberg DM, Lamb ME (2021). Musical Engagement is Linked to Posttraumatic Resilience: The Role of Gender, Personality, and Music Listening Styles After Childhood Trauma. Music & Science.

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Tamminen, J., Rastle, K., Darby, J., Lucas, R., & Williamson, V. J. (2017). The impact of music on learning and consolidation of novel words. Memory, 25(1), 107–121.

Davis, R. L., & Zhong, Y. (2017). The Biology of Forgetting - A Perspective. Neuron, 95(3), 490–503.

Fuster, Joaquin (2004). Upper processing stages of the perception–action cycle. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 2004

8(4) pp.143-145.

Ferreri Laura, & Verga Laura. (2016). Benefits of Music on Verbal Learning and Memory: How and When Does It

Work? Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 34(2), 167–182.

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