Thursday, July 15, 2004

Music and Memory

On a lighter note, I learned something incredible this weekend. This past Saturday, I was talking with a friend in Michigan who happens to know a half dozen languages or so. At one point, I asked him what he considered the best way to go about learning a language. Well, he gave several suggestions, but the one that struck my attention most was poetry and music.
For years I've marvelled at the ease with which we can remember the words of a song we haven't heard in 10 years, yet we struggle to remember some concepts for a test from material we spent hours studying over! Well, this fellow (his name be John) gave me an answer for this mind boggler.
He explained how when one is merely read/speak/memorize prose, they usually are merely using the left side of their brain. In contrast, when one begins to read/speak/memorize poetry (with the rhyme, meter, etc.) or music, they not only use the left side of their brain, but the right comes into play as well. Consequently, with poetry and music, one is practically doubling their brain power in the attempt to memorize words or concepts. Amazing!
Then he told me a story of when he was once taking an Italian class. The professor took all of the students to a neurology center one day, and they observed doctors working with several patients. One patient in particular, had lost nearly all of the left portion of his brain. Because of this, he struggled greatly to say complete sentences and could rarely pronounce (or say at all) words that had more than two syllables. Usually, he knew there was a word to use, but he simply couldn't access it because he was missing that part of his brain.
For one experiment, they had this man try to recite (in regular speech) the "Star Spangled Banner". He tried and tried, but could not do it, because he always got stuck up on the larger words. Then, however, the doctors played the music to the song, again asking him to recite the lyrics, this time singing. Lo and behold, the man sang the entire song without missing a beat, pronouncing every word perfectly! Incredibly, he was still able to access those words from the right side of his brain!
The power of music (well, rhyme and rhythm in general, to be more precise)! What a gift!


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