The Tracks of Our Lives – Music and Memory

Are there pieces of music and songs which take you immediately back to a former time and place?

Music and memory - a photograph of an old radio. Catching the tracks of our lives as music evokes memories. Copyright www.freeimages.com / Miguel Saavedra.Memories associated with pieces of music can be very immediate and sometimes surprisingly crystalised, evoking emotions, thoughts and visual images which are otherwise quite hazy. 

Music is stored in many parts of the brain and because of this music associated with specific personal memories is very meaningful and beneficial for people with memory loss and dementia. The difference between linguistic memory and musical memory underpins the widespread therapeutic use of personalised music as well as unfamiliar rhythmic music, helping individuals have a better quality of life, positively impacting behaviours and communication.

Music has the power to take us all straight back to a specific historical time and place. And as we get older the layers of musical memory stack up as a soundtrack to our lives with surprising effect. This deep connection between music and memory has been the subject of Anu Anand’s recent From Our Own Correspondent article about vintage popular Indian music, record collections and memories of partition-era Delhi.

Sometimes it is the unguarded moments when suddenly something comes onto the radio which prompts a recollection of a person or a place. Sometimes a piece of music even comes with an associated smell or colour. Often the evoked memories are happy ones but sometimes the feelings or recollections are less pleasurable. Previously forgotten or very distant family memories of people, places and events come back to the surface with great clarity and emotion.

If you are into gathering your memories you might like to keep a music-memory journal in which to jot down the music and memories evoked. Using the music as a springboard really explore the memories which you recall, follow any associated recollections and see where they take you down memory lane. Write these up in your journal and perhaps share them with friends and family.

Perhaps next time you hear a track which evokes strong memories for you note it down and think about what other tracks you can recall from that era. Perhaps a compilation album from a particular decade might provide some stimuli if you don’t know where to start. Using online technology you could put together a shared playlist on an online music sharing website. This is a great way to share your soundtrack and music memories with friends who may recall those tracks too, and also with the youngest generations of your family. Alternatively you could get the record player out of the loft and dust off your old record collection, or perhaps try to remember the words to songs you recall from your childhood.

Does your life have a signature tune? Would you want it as your musical epitaph? It may be better than what someone else might chose.

Is there one piece of music or song which is your all time favourite? Listen to it and share what it means to you with others. You might find out something surprising about them if they share theirs with you too.

Hannah Gill, historytrace, 01/02/2016


Anu Anand, Steel in Crisis”, From Our Own Correspondent, first broadcast on Saturday 23 January 2016, BBC Radio 4 FM

Anu Anand, http://anuanandjournalist.com

Historytrace can help you to explore the historical context of your family memories. Do get in touch using the Contact page of this website if our services could help you explore your family artefacts.

You have been reading the historytracings blogpost “The Tracks of Our Lives”. Copyright text: www.historytrace.co.uk, 2016; copyright image: freeimages.com / Miguel Saavedra.

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