Using Music to Retrieve Memories

This class can help seniors drum up memories, literally!

Portrait of cheerful seniors enjoying playing music.

(Roman Samborskyi /

Memories are such an important part of us. According to Psychology Today, they are what make us who we are. Some people are more forgetful by nature. Others may start having difficulties remembering things as they get older, especially when there are memory-related diseases like Alzheimer’s in their family. That’s why classes like Breaking Grounds in Drumming, a program by Tony Bennett and Chris Lavidas that uses instruments and music techniques to help senior students improve their quality of life are so important.

Music and memories

The process of creating a memory, preserving it and being able to retrieve it as needed is a complex one. Our brains need to capture the information, translate it into a usable piece of data (known as encoding) and then store it in a way that allows us to access it when necessary. 

Forgetfulness and being unable to remember something can happen when any of those parts of the process have some sort of issue. For example, if there was a problem with encoding the memory, storing it or retrieving it, we will have difficulty remembering it. 

Sound frequencies, explains Making Music Mag, published by a community that connects music makers, is the internal communication system of the brain. Different frequencies activate particular parts of the brain. By tapping areas of the brain linked to memory and emotions with the correct technique, in this case through music and drumming, a person can then gain access to past events that would otherwise be lost.

Senior couple dancing while cooking together.

(DisobeyArt /

The benefits of drumming circles

Bennett and Lavidas created their program specifically for seniors in assisted living residences, memory care communities as well as independent individuals. Once a month, seniors gather to play drums together. Through these classes, explains CBS News, some of the students with Alzheimer’s can start to recover and retain some of their lost memories

No experience is necessary to join these classes, and the benefits include intellectual and cognitive stimulation as well as enhanced hand-eye coordination. Aside from these benefits, it is an enjoyable hobby and allows the seniors to get some much needed social interaction too.

The drumming sessions are engaging and require constant participation from the students, which helps to stimulate their minds in many ways. An example of one of the exercises geared towards Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is that students are encouraged to perfectly mimic an instructor’s beat on their own drum. This is a great opportunity for the students to get to use their learned skills. It also prompts their short-term memory

The organization estimates it has educated thousands of seniors over the past ten years. And although Alzheimer’s and dementia are conditions whose causes are still currently unknown, they have been able to find a helpful and enjoyable way for patients to make the most of living with their conditions.

Close-up of drumsticks hitting a drum.

(furtseff /