Make it stick – why we remember song lyrics faster than other information

Remembering a phone number or piece of information given to us seems really difficult. Even if we hear it multiple times, it just doesn’t seem to stick easily. However, when we listen to a song, it doesn’t take us long to be singing the lyrics at the top of our lungs. Does it have anything to do with the tune? Are songs just more repetitive? Or is it the way music makes us feel that allows us to remember the lyrics?

The Simpsons, singing in the shower gif

We seem to remember the words to songs we haven’t heard for years. Without even realising they just come flooding back to us when we hear the track. Our brains seem to be an endless pit for song lyrics. It doesn’t seem to matter how many songs we already know verse for verse, a new one comes along and we soak it up like a sponge. Why then is it so hard for us to remember more important information? I don’t know about you but if I don’t write that appointment time and date down it’s going to be forgotten within minutes.

🎞 It’s all about the exposure

Music is impossible to escape from. That’s not me suggesting I want to. I love being surrounded by music, but we seem to hear it without even noticing. Whenever you go to a bar or supermarket, you’ll find music playing. It might not be something you particularly notice, but subconsciously you’ve probably been listening. While on your daily commute, you probably choose which tracks you listen to. These might be some of your favouirte, or perhaps a new album by an artist you like. Once you hear something that peaks your interest, you’re likely to have it playing on repeat for a while. Hearing it over and over again has to make it stick, right?

Overloading your brain with the same lyrics again and again, it’s understandable why we pick them up. Even if you’re not noticeably listening, if a song that’s been on the radio is also playing while you’re doing your large grocery shop, then you’re being exposed to it again. Commute times are the most popular for radio stations, and therefore they’re likely to play the most popular chart music within these hours. Therefore, you’re probably hearing the same songs you did on the way to work while on your way home.

Just like small children with nursery rhymes or learning the alphabet. It’s all about repetition. The more they hear it, the more they pick it up. We often say that children pick things up really quickly, but is that not just because their little minds are more innocent? They don’t have the day-to-day stresses running across their mind, and therefore they can concentrate on what they’re hearing. This doesn’t suggest we don’t also learn things at a fast rate. It just seems we notice it less. For them, it’s an achievement which is encouraged by those around them. Whereas for us, it becomes something we overlook. Our ability to remember hundreds of songs shouldn’t be dismissed.

🧸 Giving you the feels

Think of a song that has a strong memory attached to it. Whether it be good or bad, we all associate certain songs with certain periods in our lives. Many people (while they may not admit it) will have a breakup song. They’ll remember back to the days of heartbreak and which song they listened to on repeat. Usually this is a song they associate with the other person or just a song which has lyrics that relate to how they’re feeling. A lot of people will have the same heartbreak songs from their teenage years as their friends. They might look back on this time now and laugh, but I bet they still remember the lyrics if they heard it playing.

It doesn’t have to just be sadness. You might have a song that gives you warm memories when you hear it play. A song you’ve heard at a festival, surrounded by your close friends, having the time of your life. It’s unbeatable. Hearing that song again will take you back there and all the memories associated to it will come flooding back. A lot of us will remember exactly where we were when the song impacted us. Whether it was the first time of hearing it or it was the first time it really meant something. That’s the kind of thing a licence plate or phone number can’t compare to. It’s not as easy to remember information that doesn’t make you feel a certain way.

🎶 Turn facts into song

There are many reasons why we pick up songs so easily. Some seem to get themselves embedded in our brains and as hard as we try, we can’t seem to shift them. We tend to listen to music for enjoyment so that surely has to play a part? Forcing yourself to remember less interesting information seems like a chore, so our brains probably switch off. Have you ever tried turning information into a song, to help you remember it? I’m not sure if it works the same. They do say that we can learn things if we listen as we fall asleep. Perhaps that’s similar to being exposed to music even when we don’t notice it.

What do you think? Is all of this relevant or do you simply remember songs you like? If that’s the case though, why do we remember those annoying jingles from adverts. Surely no one’s a fan of those? Could it simply be, we remember what we want to remember? Or do our brains just pick up on these things when we least expect it?

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