From lullabies to military songs – The great powers of music

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What about a little music to sleep well? A little song to get intestinal fortitude? Or singing a text to remember it? Does this stuff work? Yes it does!


The music influences on several brain behaviors and it plays therefore an important role in learning, human relations, perception of the world and memorization.


Light has always been associated with truth (what we can see in such expressions as ” to shed light on “, or ” the Age of the Enlightenment ” which appoints the first large-scale human attempt to get rational knowledge of the world).


And, for the same reasons, the sight is associated with knowledge: we immediately understand the origin of the image that we see, and if an obstacle prevents us from seeing something, at least we can notice the obstacle, so we know that something can be hide behind.

At the opposite, the hearing has a little bit of a magic character: the sound spreads itself in the space, despite of physical barriers across its ways. If masking an image is an easy job, it is more difficult to deaden a sound. And, the other way, it is often difficult to determine the origin of a sound we sense. Moreover, if we can close our eyes, we cannot close our ears. Therefore, the sense of hearing erases the barrier between the individual and the world which surrounds him. Sounds affect him directly and modify his person, his deep psychological structure. Sounds put us in touch with the Unknown. Therefore, music plays a very important role in the functioning of the brain and in the human development.


The musical memorization uses different zones of the brain than the linguistic one. It mainly uses two types of different memories: the semantic one, which enables one to identify an air or to whistle it, and the episodic one, which enables one to put it back in the context in which he has already heard it before, to recall the events and the feelings which he has associate with this music or sound.1

Furthermore, we know that the sense of hearing is developed very early, and is already operational in the mother’s wombs: the baby hears working the physiological system of his host. We thus see that the hearing system is more primitive than the visual one and is associated with a primitive phase of development where the subject isn’t yet separated from his environment and doesn’t differentiate himself from the world. And as the memory always put sounds back in context, by listening to past sounds we also recall the context in which we heard them and the feelings that we associated to them. Thus, we can say that we can “fix” feelings or memories to a music! 1


What? Plenty of things, of course, with such a tool!
For example, we can use it to memorize better a text by putting it into music.


The semantic memory makes us know the air, thus the musical note which is going to come, and the episodic memory reminds us the word which has to come with the next note. By the way it is for that reason that there are so many popular songs: music is a very powerful cultural vector.
We can also help our baby to fall asleep by singing a lullaby to him: very soon, he will associate it with the presence of his mother: her smell, her contact, her voice, the breast feeding … And in the future the simple singing will recall him this comfortable atmosphere. The lullaby also has the power to calm the parent who sings it by sending him back in his own childhood! By the way, it is certainly for that reason that certain lullabies crossed ages, from generation to generation … And it is so powerful that a program of music therapy using lullabies was developed in Canada to reassure children presenting an attachment disorder. 1

Then there are plenty of social applications: more to read in our next article!


Look further / Usefull link(s)


1■ Article musique et cerveau, may 2017 (FR)

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