THE MAGIC OF MUSIC ~ Davina Baynes
Welcome to this, the first in an occasional series on the magic of music.
We all know that music can affect the way we feel, that it can unlock memories, that it has a physical effect upon our bodies. We may start tapping our fingers or our feet. We can be calmed or agitated by the music we hear. Most often these reactions are completely involuntary. Music has an enormously long and varied history, from the very earliest of times, it has always had a very important and real part to play in families, groups and wider society.
Having started this tour simply investigating the effects on our memory that are linked to particular pieces of music, it soon became clear that music, does in fact have even more effects upon us than this. Not only that, but that these effects, its ‘magic’ if you like, can be used to the advantage of us and those around us. It frankly astonished me that music has its role in such areas as: dementia and head injury, pain relief, sports performance, mental health, memorisation and recall, language learning etc.
As a start though, let’s give some thought to something we can all, I’m sure, relate to. The way that hearing a certain piece of music, a track, can transport us back…
Do You Remember?
You remember, you recall, those times you have heard a song or piece of music play and you have been transported back, back, back in both time and place. You are suddenly, with absolutely no conscious effort on your own behalf, whisked back years and you have the almost visceral experience of ‘being’ back then, with friends or family. Back…back to that concert, school days, a first love, sad days, happy days, holidays, summer days, winter nights…
Music lives on in our long-term memories. Since music does not operate on a single area of the brain, but on multiple large areas, it is captured in our memory in a unique way; a way which allows for a unique involuntary retrieval to take place. Music activates the auditory, motor and limbic (emotional) regions of the brain. Regardless of the type of music that you are listening to, those same areas of the brain are activated; so you can be listening to classical, jazz, hip-hop or pop, it is all the same. You hear the music and process sound, your mind processes the rhythm, the beat, while your emotions go on their own strange little journey. (1) Strong emotional responses are common to music: ‘can make you love, can make you cry, bring you down, can get you high.’ (Bread– The Guitar Man) These emotional responses play an important part in the association of memory with music.
Music you listened to in your teens and twenties (I guess some of you may still be in those halcyon days) can easily take you back to those times in your life. Memories of these times in our lives are very, very strong in most people. In fact, psychologists even have a name for the phenomenon: the ‘reminiscence bump.’
The stranger thing is though, that a scientific study has shown that you can also have ‘cascading reminiscence bumps’ which relate to the music your parents and even your grandparents listened to. Yes, that’s right, your musical memories can go back two generations! Much of this seems to depend on the music you heard at home when you were young. (2) You don’t even have to hear the tune to activate the link between memory and music, words alone are quite enough. (3)
So next time you are listening to the radio…or are out shopping… or you have chosen a favourite album to listen to…or… and this magical effect happens, where you are transported back in time and place, you have your brain’s magical connection to music at its deepest level to thank for it.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. Please feel free to comment with your own experiences of how music has taken you on this magical carpet ride back to the days of your youth, or even the days of your parents and grandparents.
- Alluri et al., 2013 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811913007027?via%3Dihub
- Krumhansl & Zupnick, 2013 http:11m.pss.sagepub.com/content/24/10/2057
- Cady et al., 2008