Notable & Quotable
How are musicians able to memorize so much music?
April 29, 2015 6:05 p.m. ET
From “How Do You Memorise an Entire Symphony,” by Jessica Grahn, Magazine - BBC News, April 28:
The extraordinary ability of musicians to recall millions of musical notes over a lifetime is undoubtedly one of the most impressive feats of human memory. . . .
The demands placed on musicians’ memories may physically alter their brains. When hearing familiar music, both musicians and non-musicians activate a key brain area called the hippocampus, but in musicians the activity is higher.
Moreover, musicians have more “grey matter” in their hippocampuses, as do others in memory-demanding professions, such as London taxi drivers who have completed “the Knowledge”.
Neuroscientists have found that musical memories can be preserved in the brain even when most other memories are lost. . . .
Neuroscientists are still trying to discover why music can be resistant to memory problems. One possibility is that music, like smell, taps into primitive emotional centres in the brain that have widespread connections to other brain areas.
These connections across the brain are what make the memories robust. This wide distribution could also explain why music conjures up rich memories, as for example with a song that hasn’t been heard for decades.