Before you read this article, start by reciting the alphabet in your head.
There is a reason you just fought a strong temptation to hum. It’s the same reason you can remember jingles from childhood and lyrics to your favorite rock anthem, but not the security password you set up last week.
If you can name all 50 states or all 66 books of the Bible, my guess is it’s because of a song. Sunday school teachers, marketers, hymn writers, rock stars, and kindergarten teachers are all well aware that “what is learned in song is remembered long.”
And neuroscience backs this up. Pairing information with music helps our hippocampus retrieve that information with ease. Music is a powerful teaching tool, and before the discipline of neuroscience existed, the followers of Yahweh employed that tool.
Miriam’s Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 was composed to stamp the memory of God’s transcendence onto his people’s consciousness. The 150 psalms, whose words by themselves are perfectly potent, were written to be sung. The children of God understood their need to be reminded by sacred words set to melodies. After all, ours is a long history of forgetting and being summoned back to remembrance. Music plus words equals recall.
But recall is not all that music aids. Words set to music have a profoundly formative effect. Any lyric we hear or sing can yield us either well-formed or malformed, depending on the content of that lyric.
In my youth group in the 1980s, we were urged to destroy the records and cassettes that might train us in the paths of secular music. If you’ve ever downloaded the clean version of a song instead of the explicit version, you recognize the formative power of lyrics. Sacred or secular, ...1
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