Has music made mankind better

BR CLASSIC

Music and memory training Listening to music helps you remember

October 21, 2017 from Elgin Heuerding

Receiving knowledge, experiences and feelings is central to our brain and our being. In an interview with BR-KLASSIK, brain researcher Eckart Altenmüller explains how listening to music and making music train our memory and why music itself is a memory art.

Image source: colourbox / BR Montage

BR CLASSIC:Do you actually know how memory works when making music?

Eckart Altenmüller: You know a lot about it. First of all, music is actually memory art, because music unfolds in time. In order to be able to understand and enjoy a melody at all, I have to keep the beginning of the melody and the entire course in my memory. When you listen to music, you automatically train your musical memory as well. The second point is: when words are underlaid with music, then these words remain in the memory much more clearly. We use this with hymns. The early poets did that. With the Odyssey, for example, they didn't read the text aloud, but sang it - with pitches.

BR CLASSIC:Would that mean if I had music playing in the background while I was reading something, that I could remember it better?

Eckart Altenmüller: You are probably better at solving math. But keeping lyrics in mind while listening to music - that's actually inconvenient. Then the two streams - the auditory stream of music and the inner stream of reading - would not complement each other, but mutually interfere.

BR CLASSIC:As far as I know, making music is something that also takes place in many parts of the brain. Is that why music is beneficial for memory?

Eckart Altenmüller conducts research in the field of neurophysiology and neuropsychology of musicians. | Image source: picture-alliance / dpaEckart Altenmüller: In any case. It is the case that music-making creates primarily associative networks in the brain. That means, when I hear a piece of music then I can call up my emotional memories for it at the same time. At the same time, I can also see the musician in my mind. At the same time, my own fingers or lips are addressed accordingly.

At the same time, listening to music always creates expectations and this involves our planning centers in the brain. And in this way, the entire cerebrum of both hemispheres is actually already busy listening to music. And these associative connections make themselves noticeable in the brain with a denser network formation, and this can then also be used for other memory contents.

BR CLASSIC: Is that even more pronounced with people who not only listen to music, but also make it themselves?

Eckart Altenmüller: People who make music definitely have better speech memories. And that is attributed to the fact that they have learned to better store the sounds in their auditory memory - and to be able to differentiate them better. What is also known with musicians is that they especially remember visual forms better. But that only applies to classical musicians who read sheet music. And that is attributed to the practice effect: to be able to recognize and remember visual patterns better through complicated notation.

BR CLASSIC:Do you know techniques to actually learn music by heart and play it?

Eckart Altenmüller: This is taught very specifically at music schools and also at the music academy. It is important to anchor the piece of music in different dimensions. First of all, it is important to hear it internally. For example, we train our students in so-called mental training. That is, they read music and then hear it in their inner ear. At the same time they should imagine their hand or lip movements. At the same time, they should feel inside what is going on. And then they should see themselves, as in an inner film, while they play this piece, even though they just sit very quietly in a chair and have these notes in front of them. And then it's also very good when you know the structure of a piece of music well. Then you can also keep the structure in the so-called explicit memory.

BR CLASSIC:What would you say is harmful to our memory functions in our everyday life today?

Eckart Altenmüller: I think that in the meantime we may not be practicing our memory enough. And that's simply because we have all the facts immediately available - through the media. This is an incredible treasure. I admit that it's great when you can't remember when the Augsburg Religious Peace came to be. I google - and within 20 seconds I know: It was 1555. But, especially in the younger generation, that is of course alarming if you no longer remember the facts. It is just the case that, especially in early childhood and adolescence, we build up the structures in the brain that enable us to retain some kind of memory content and to work with it. And if I never form these structures, if I never have the opportunity as a child and adolescent to learn something by heart, then later on I will have great difficulty remembering these things.

BR CLASSIC:One also says: in old age one becomes forgetful. The older you get, do you have to do more for your memory?

Eckart Altenmüller: Our physiological age is also associated with the fact that certain memory functions deteriorate. This is also due to the fact that we no longer evaluate the newly stored memories so strongly emotionally. We keep what we experience for the first time. If we hear a certain concert in the Herkulessaal for the hundredth time - then I will no longer impress it on my memory. So that old people often have difficulties in evaluating the contents of memory emotionally and then remembering them less well. And so it's good to keep your emotional freshness and curiosity. You can practice that. The second point is that some of the neural functions simply slow down or even deteriorate. Neurons perishing is a physiological process. But even here you can practice: learning poems by heart or humping certain pieces of music to yourself or singing along in a choir. This process can be stopped, if not partially reversed.

Elgin Heuerding asked the questions for BR-KLASSIK.

Broadcast:"Leporello" on October 13, 2017, from 4:05 p.m. on BR-KLASSIK