When you are listening to music, multiple brain regions light up with activity, he says. The lyrics activate the language parts of the brain, but the music also engages parts of the brain related to rhythm and memory.
The same is true when you are playing a musical instrument.
"Remembering how to play music uses a different part of the brain than remembering the grocery list or recalling the trip you took to Europe last summer," says Dr. Budson. It's the part of your brain that stores habit-based memories, like the ones that help you ride a bicycle. "This is why if you used to play piano, or guitar, or violin — even if you haven't picked up the instrument for 10 years — if you sit down you can get back into it with only a couple days of practice," he says.
The unique way that musical memories are stored in the brain may explain why people with Alzheimer's disease are sometimes able to remember music, even when other memories elude them.
"Interestingly, some people with Alzheimer's disease can continue to play an instrument even when the dementia has reached a point where they might not be able to recall their grandchild's name," says Dr. Budson.
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