Music Memory


Music Memory Article: Piano Diana


Back in 2012 Rick Kessel wrote an article on Music Memory.  I have blogged about this before because I am a believer that music, as with having many other hobbies, actually stimulates the brain.


"There is now evidence that suggests that passive musical listening may indeed actually have significant benefits to the brain."

Music Memory by Rick Kessel 


A few years ago, there was a huge publicity campaign when it was (mis)reported that students listening to Mozart prior to taking standardized tests would show a marked improvement in their exam scores. The idea that passively listening to music would actually make a person "smarter," while a nice thought, has been largely refuted. Conversely, there has been far more evidence to support the benefits of learning to play a musical instrument, especially with respect to jazz improvisation.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University discovered the following while having musicians improvise within a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) machine (that's got to be some trick!): "When you're telling your own musical story, you're shutting down impulses that might impede the flow of novel ideas." Basically, the brain creates the connections that allow greater freedom of expression - another benefit of playing music.

Going one step further, however, there is now evidence that suggests that passive musical listening may indeed actually have significant benefits to the brain. We've all had the experience of hearing a tune that brought us back to a specific place and time, immediately giving us a vision in our mind of surroundings, people, and perhaps events. 

It's a powerful feeling, it's extremely personal, and it's mostly related to music that we have grown up with. Evidently, the neurological pathways in our brains become almost "hard wired" when we listen to music, and music elicits a powerful response in people, even those suffering debilitating mental conditions such as Alzheimer's disease. A recent documentary, Alive Inside, suggests, 
"Even though Alzheimer's and various forms of dementia will ravage many parts of the brain, long-term memory of music from when one was young very often remains. So if you tap that, you really get that kind of awakening response. It's pretty exciting to see."
Dan Cohen, the author of Alive Inside,  took an unusual approach to his studies, and rather than simply playing music for all of the patients in his test groups, he developed a plan to "create personalized iPod playlists." The idea was that certain people react to "their" music in much more significant ways. after all, some folks would rather hear Duke Ellington or Ella Fitzgerald, while others may prefer a variety of other artists. Obviously, the cost to implement a personalized plan for these patients is costly. Cohen has attempted to take advantage of the rapidly changing technology and get folks to donate old iPods and MP3 players that can then be utilized in nursing homes and care facilities to help elderly patients.

As musicians and educators, it is certainly another positive benefit to music making, and we should all consider going to a local retirement or nursing home to perform for a very appreciative audience. If you have the opportunity, take a look at this important documentary that adds even more evidence of the power of music...

As a piano teacher for over 20 years now, I am excited to support nursing homes in bringing my students to perform for them several times a year. It's a win-win experience for everyone.


Here's some additional writing on this subject:

Additional Posts


Singing Helps The Brain

Music Therapy

Do You See Colors?

You may be interested in the audio resource, Finding The Key to Any Song.

All the best,





"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey
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