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Music and Memory


Music and Memory

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning. My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes. My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.

~Psalm 119: 9-11, 54, 171-172 ESV

Have you ever had an earworm? No, I’m not referring to anything creepy crawly. An earworm, technically known as Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI), is “a catchy and/or memorable piece of music or saying that continuously occupies a person's mind even after it is no longer being played or spoken about.” It’s the TripleDent gum commercial that keeps playing repeatedly during the Pixar film, Inside Out.

Research has found that earworms correlate with music exposure, but could also be triggered by experiences that trigger the memory of a song (involuntary memory) such as seeing a word that reminds one of the song, hearing a few notes from the song, or feeling an emotion one associates with the song.

Most people have experienced earworms - a commercial jingle, a chorus from a pop song, maybe a movie theme or a tune from a musical. It pops into your head at unexpected times and gets stuck on repeat.

But what if that earworm were the very words of Scripture looping in your head over and over again. Music is a known tool to aid in memorization. Music activates the areas of our brain associated with memory and can help us not only to recall past memories but also help us to form new ones.


When David says, "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you," one of the easiest ways we can do this, as adults, and especially as children, is through song.

I can still perfectly remember every word and note of melody to a song that I learned more than 25 years ago. I was in high school, attending a Student Venture conference and the couple leading music for each session took a few minutes to teach us Galatians 2:20 set to music:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, the Christ liveth in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

If you were sitting with me, I could sing it to you in an instant, without the slightest hesitation to recall it.

When we choose to sing songs that not only are full of God’s truth, but actually contains the words of scripture itself, we are creating powerful tools that we can rely on to help us resist the temptation to sin, to refute lies and doubt about our identity, and to find joy in God - in his character and in his promises.

This month in our launch of "Phase 1" of our kids ministry, I'll be teaching our kids a song called Mediator. It is directly written from 1 Timothy 2:5, the memory verse associated with our catechism question for the month of March, “Who is the Redeemer?” The chorus of the song has a catchy “sing-along” style and features these words:

There is only one God
There is only one Mediator
Standing between God and man
He’s the only way to salvation

I would encourage you, whether you have children in our kids ministry or not, to take a moment to listen to this song, possibly multiple times, during the month of March.

Or if you give that song a try and it’s not your “style”, that’s OK. Find another song that can be your “go-to”, that can bring the words of scripture flooding back into your memory at moments when you need it most.

Music is everywhere. As God’s church, there are lots of things we can sing. Choose to sing God’s word. Be intentional. Allow His statutes to become your songs and let them carry you through your daily sojourning as you hold fast to His promises.