Musical Memories: Research Shows Songs Reach Deep

When flipping through the stations of a radio while on the go, it’s a common treat to come upon a song that strikes a certain inner chord — for its sound or for its lyrics, we can easily become attracted to new music. But an even more fascinating phenomenon lies within the experience of tuning into an old classic, whether it’s a long-time favorite or simply something heard long ago during formative years. For most people, hearing and recognizing an old song brings back vivid memories. Certain events or periods in life may flash through the mind, or detailed scenes may replay, all at the stirring of those special notes. But recently, a psychology team at Kansas State University wanted to find out if it was the actual hearing of old songs that brought about vivid memories of the past, or whether the brain can produce these scenes and images without the aid of aural stimulation.

Researchers compiled lists of older songs from a broad range of students at the university, creating a body of music sure to ring bells for the test subjects. Control groups were shown the list, exposed only to the titles and artists, while test groups were exposed to clips of the songs themselves, and others were given printed lyrics or album art. Participants then wrote detailed memories associated with given songs. Interestingly enough, those shown only the list of titles and artists produced memories and images that were just as detailed as those who were exposed to the sensory stimuli, leading the research team to conclude that that our own inner representations of songs are as powerful as the experience of actually hearing them. So next time you long to hear a favorite childhood tune, just hum along or recall its chorus and you’ll be on your way down memory lane.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Bonnie


    January 26th, 2009 at 4:39 AM

    This research does not surprise me one bit. Music is so much a part of all of our lives that many songs are bound to hold special or not so special memories for us. I know that even today whan I hear certain somgs they can remind me of people or situations and it is almost like you go back in time to that period of your life, good or bad.

  • Alicia


    January 27th, 2009 at 3:04 AM

    I totally echo bonnie’s thoughts. A song can take me back to my first crush, first heartbreak, first date and so many more firsts. I think they have a connection to the relationships especially the love relationships in our life.

  • Kenneth


    January 27th, 2009 at 3:14 PM

    This is so weird but I feel the same way yet I never really knew that others did too. You are right Alicia. It totally can take you back in time in a way that nothing else can.

  • Grace


    January 28th, 2009 at 5:32 AM

    Even though I am not a huge music lover this still happens for me as well. I hear a certian song and I can remember exactly where I was when I last ehard this song, who I was with and what things I may have been going through in my life at that time. It is amazing that music can do this for you. And my husband feels even more strongly about his music than I do so I know for him there must be an even stronger attachment to it!

  • Molly


    January 29th, 2009 at 5:29 AM

    Music is the gift that just keeps on giving.

  • Lisa


    January 30th, 2009 at 11:43 PM

    Music is the elixir of life!!

  • Gina


    January 30th, 2009 at 11:48 PM

    Music is important for the health of the human soul. Nothing soothes and calms one down like music one loves. Musical talent is also genetic to an extent and I think that’s one reason why we assosciate certain events with a certain tune.

  • Thomas


    January 31st, 2009 at 9:18 AM

    Even though I am very happily involved with someone right now there is still a certain song that any time I here it brings back pleasant memories of an old flame. This article is just what I needed for validation that this is not necessarily because I still care about her deeply, only that I associate this time of my life with her with this song.

  • Tom


    October 12th, 2009 at 8:43 PM

    I usually spend at least 6 hours a week sitting in front of my speakers with my eyes closed, listening to music. it’s the most relaxing, enjoyable thing I do. The most abstract art form.

  • M Beats

    M Beats

    December 26th, 2009 at 3:01 PM

    Does this brain activity related to hearing music is why it is recommended to let babies listen to music?

    By the way, I do get flashbacks when I hear a song I didn’t hear for a long time…

  • jason


    April 23rd, 2010 at 1:15 AM

    Music is the elixir of life!!

  • peachpuff


    May 5th, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    Jason is absolutely right. Music is one of the things that gives a life some point !

  • Morgan Monroe

    Morgan Monroe

    May 6th, 2010 at 5:59 PM

    Funny I’ve been gravitating towards southern gospel. Seems to be inline with my spirit.

  • Daryl


    June 7th, 2010 at 6:00 AM

    Music gives me inspiration and relaxes me in stressful times. I’m currently listening to Somali Music now and loving it :)

  • somali music

    somali music

    June 26th, 2010 at 8:18 PM

    Old songs are tonic of soul. Smooth and slow music dish up real pleasure of life.

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