Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Memory Booster! Using Music to Memorize Lists and Facts.
The popularity of shows on television, like Fox's "Don't Forget the Lyrics," and party games such as "Encore" emphasize the power of music to help us remember words and numbers. If I write the phone number 867-5309, you may naturally start singing the hit song by Tommy Tutone! I often use music to help my clients remember phone numbers, addresses and lists of information like the months of the year or counting by twos, fives or tens. The children I work with have a range of disabilities from autism to mental retardation, but the principles of music that facilitate memorization remain the same for helping anyone remember key items of information.
1. Use "chunking" - Telephone numbers, as they are written in the United States, (###) ###-####, are good examples of dividing up information into manageable pieces of information. One way I have used this idea is by dividing up lists like the twelve months of the year into two groups before making up a song to help children memorize them. In addition, I use two different songs for each set of months in order to differentiate the "chunks" and make them more memorable.
2. "Piggyback" songs - These are songs where new words are used with an old melody. A great example of this is the Alphabet Song which is set to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Piggyback songs are easily overused, but very helpful for teachers and parents who are not musically trained. I usually make up original melodies for use in memorizing material, but it is possible to find appropriate popular tunes that appropriately fit the text to be memorized. I suggest not to use the same tune for all of the different "chunks" of information. Folk songs or songs from the 50's and 60's are usually very good sources for trying out piggyback tunes. These songs are usually very simple in structure, easily sung and very familiar. The melody for (Oh my darling) Clementine, for example, works well to sing about the days of the week:
There are seven days,
There are seven days,
There are seven days of the week.
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.
3. Add body movements - Kinesthetic memory can be a cue for cognitive recall and kids love to move their bodies to music. A perfect example for this is when kids are chanting, "Hip, hip, hurray!" and naturally pump their arms and fists high up into the air. Adding body percussion such as clapping, stomping or patting your knees at times in the songs can help to emphasize certain lyric information. Strategically placed claps or stomps can also "chunk" the song into smaller parts and allow the singers to refocus and get back on track with the group if they were behind or forgot some of the lyrics. These actions can be very useful for children who have mental retardation or Down Syndrome. Sometimes it takes many repetitions of the song, but in my experience, they eventually learn the action and prefer songs with movement over songs that only use singing.
4. Sign language - Add sign language for key words or even for the whole song. Signing is both kinesthetic and visual! When using sign language for a song pay special attention to keeping the signs in tempo with the rhythm of the music and making the signing motions larger or smaller according to the dynamics and lyrics.
5. Use melody and harmony effectively - Most songs have obvious lyric and melodic phrases that sound incomplete if not finished. One example of this could be singing, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it ______," and just leaving the word and the melody blank. This space can be used for important information since it is the most likely place in the song that a word will be remembered when the melody is sung as a cue. An added advantage to this song is that the lyric phrase is repeated many times, providing even more emphasis for important information.
6. Try a Bigmak! - Ablenet has a step by step Bigmak or Littlemak that can be programmed with multiple words or phrases so that the recordings are played sequentially as the button is pushed. This is a great feature for lists and allows non-verbal children to participate in the songs.
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