It Takes Me Back

March 14, 2022

By Meghan Greenwood

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For some, it’s smells. For others, it’s verbal cues. For most, it is sounds – music – melody & lyrics. Songs have an incredibly powerful way of invoking memories. In the early 20th century, many studies were conducted that provided links from music and auditory information to the brain’s memory (Deutsch 1982; Miller 1956).

Think about grade school. I can still remember the melodic mnemonic device: 30 days hath September, April, June, and November. All the rest have 31. Excepting February alone. Which has twenty-eight, that’s fine. Till leap year gives it twenty-nine. Heck, I usually sing it when figuring out my calendar to this day. Or the alphabet song – you couldn’t forget that one if you tried.

Musical mnemonic devices have been used for centuries to teach and retain historical and education information. But beyond catchy tunes for helping kids learn their A-B-Cs, sounds and music can also trigger powerful transportation. They take us back to a different era of our lives.

For example, I heard a song the other day – albeit, in my head – that instantly took me back to my high school vehicle. I was driving around in that red, used Grand Prix, rocking out to “Miss Me” by The Wrens, a lost track that thanks to the power of YouTube, has been reintroduced into my life. As most old people say, it was a simpler time. Not a care in the world beyond some exams. Sweet, sweet nostalgia. Tingling ASMR response – yes, I’m one of those people.

Because of the uplifting power of music, not only can it transcend us through time, but it can immediately prompt a mood shift. Music provokes dopamine production in the brain, which in turn provides a feeling of enthusiasm and pleasure.

I recall a college biochemistry course. The tests were extremely difficult and lasted upwards of 3 hours. The professor encouraged us to listen to music while taking the exam – Note: this was a time before phones were used as your sole music device; obviously, this wouldn’t fly nowadays with possible cheating at your fingertips. I would pop in the headphones of my IPod and listen to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. Not only did this transport me back to fun nights with my friends, but it would also instantly calm my nerves. I felt like I was weightless in space instead of in a cold room with hours of intense problem solving on the paper in front of me.

Who needs hypnosis? Music will do the trick.


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