Intuitively, we all sense that, as the poet William Congreve says in The Mourning Bride: “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”

Perhaps if those of us reading this blog post had used music to help us relax as students, we would have developed better memories and known that the correct quote was “savage breast” NOT “savage beast,” as most of us seem to remember it. But whether we know the quote or not, most of us feel confident of the quote’s message: music can move us emotionally.

Music and memory

Now science has been able to confirm those intuitions. Music can certainly exert therapeutic, healing powers on the human body. In addition, certain kinds of music can also aid in optimizing learning.

Learning with music can expand your capacity to remember material. When students learn information with a song – they are able to recall it better. Take the alphabet song, for example, that most schoolchildren learn to memorize their ABC’s. Once you’ve heard it, it is almost impossible to forget. Some adults still find themselves singing it to themselves when they need to alphabetize lists or look up a word in the dictionary. Similarly, there are many people (you do not have to divulge your names) who hum Jiminy Cricket’s catchy little tune when asked to spell E-N-C-Y-C-L-O-P-E-D-I-A.)

If you have older children (or you think back to your own teen years), you probably have noticed that it is easy to remember the words to dozens of favorite songs. Why? When material is accompanied by music, suddenly we behave as if we are memory whizzes.

A bridge between the right brain and the left brain

How does music allow us to improve our memory? Music is a bridge between the right and the left brain. Research on stroke victims, shows that songs can connect the two brain hemispheres. The right hemisphere learns the melody while the left learns the words. Stroke patients who lose the ability to talk can still learn to speak if phrases are set to music.

Since music is processed by the right brain and language by the left, both hemispheres are activated when you hear lessons with music playing in the background. That means you are using a larger share of the brain – and more modes of thinking — than you otherwise would without music. That enhances your ability to acquire new information.

If you stop and think, you’ll see that we already use music deliberately to achieve certain goals. There is music in shopping malls and grocery stores to make people happy and buy more. The music in doctors’ and dentists’ offices is usually selected to help people calm down. The music in gyms is often fast-paced and intense, helping to encourage members to work out harder. 

So it should not be surprising that music can also be used to help us learn. But what kind of music is best for learning? We will discuss that in my next blog post.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.