Using Music as a Memory Tool: Mnemonics and Music
by Shelly Edwards, MLS,
PAC Business Development Coordinator, Trainer, Presenter and Consultant
As I was reviewing our 2020 journal topics, I was excited to see that the month of March is devoted to the hippocampal area. I am and always have been fascinated by memory: how it works, how it stops working, what can we do to remember better, etc. Most people, who know me will not be surprised that I have yet again chosen music as the focus of an article. When I first said I wanted to do this topic many said, we’ve done enough stories about how we can use music to reach people living with dementia. I totally agree – that’s why I want to talk about mnemonics and setting them to music for all of us.
“Mnemonics help improve memory because they train the mind to look for patterns in information and they create meaningful associations with information. They also allow you to cross-reference the information in different parts of your memory. Mnemonics sometimes involve visualizations, making the facts more vivid. Mnemonic techniques make remembering more effective.” Mnemonics use rhythm, rhyme, and alliteration to assist in memory and they are often not set to music. For example, what does HOMES stand for? Being from Ohio, I know that each letter represents one of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. What about the phrase, Every Good Boy Does Fine? It represents the lines of the treble clef in music. For those of us working in the world of dementia care or just wanting to learn more and with so much information coming from so many sources, how can we remember it all? I think musical mnemonics will help us.
From our earliest age, our parents began using musical mnemonics to help us learn long lists of things. How many of us learned our ABCs with the ABC song? “According to an online survey at squidoo.com, when memorizing the ABC’s, 67% used the ABC song, 12% with a rhyme, and 7% with no rhyme or song and just with flashcards.” Some of my fondest childhood memories come from School House Rock, a cartoon series on Saturday mornings that helped me learn everything from multiplication tables (Three is a Magic Number), to parts of speech (Conjunction Junction), to government (I’m Just a Bill), and even the U.S. Constitution (The Preamble). To this day, I remember most of these topics by singing the songs in my head, if not out loud. I didn’t even realize that I was using musical mnemonics, I was just singing songs to remember stuff.
So, what kind of music should you use to help you remember important information? It should be a song that is very familiar to you. Nursery rhymes or songs from our early childhood work best, but I’ve seen people use a favorite rock and roll song like Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire to memorize the periodic table. Any song works, but it has to be one that is right for you.
Can you think of any information you might like to remember and a song that might work for you? Well, here at PAC, we have. Teepa took two songs and created a musical mnemonic for all of us to use to remember the Positive Physical Approach™ (set to the tune of Amazing Grace) and our GEMS® (set to the tune of This Old Man).
Here’s a quick video clip of me singing the GEMS song.
So, the next time you are worried about remembering information of any kind, maybe take a moment to set it to music and see how it works for you.