Struggle to match names to people’s faces? Try drumming lessons to boost your memory

Struggle to match names to people’s faces? Try drumming lessons to boost your memory

  • US researchers studied people who did two months of drumming lessons
  • Those who did two hours a week boosted memory and recognised faces better
  •  Researchers believe benefits could be even better after longer musical training

Middle-aged people who struggle to remember faces might want to take up drumming lessons.

A study looked at musical abilities as a potential solution to those awkward moments of forgetting which waiter was at your table, or which person behind the bar was supposed to be bringing your drink.

Researchers discovered people who did two months of ‘drumming lessons’ — tapping a screen in time with a beat for almost two hours a week — could recognise faces better.

This was found by asking them to identify a face which flashed up on a screen as being the same or different to one they had seen three seconds earlier.

Brain scans showed learning to keep a beat appeared to boost a brain region linked to short-term memory.

The small study found only a four per cent improvement in remembering faces, but researchers believe people could do better after longer musical training.

Researchers discovered people who did two months of ‘drumming lessons’ — tapping a screen in time with a beat for almost two hours a week — could recognise faces better


Convince yourself that you have a good memory that will improve

Too many people get stuck here and convince themselves that their memory is bad, that they are just not good with names, that numbers just slip out of their minds for some reason. Erase those thoughts and vow to improve your memory. 

Keep your brain active

The brain is not a muscle, but regularly ‘exercising’ the brain actually does keep it growing and spurs the development of new nerve connections that can help improve memory. 

By developing new mental skills —especially complex ones such as learning a new language or learning to play a new musical instrument — and challenging your brain with puzzles and games you can keep your brain active and improve its physiological functioning. 

Exercise daily

Regular aerobic exercise improves circulation and efficiency throughout the body, including in the brain, and can help ward off the memory loss that comes with aging. Exercise also makes you more alert and relaxed, and can thereby improve your memory uptake, allowing you to take better mental ‘pictures.’ 

Reduce stress

Chronic stress, although it does not physically damage the brain, can make remembering much more difficult. Even temporary stresses can make it more difficult to effectively focus on concepts and observe things. Try to relax, regularly practice yoga or other stretching exercises, and see a doctor if you have severe chronic stress.

Source: Queen’s University Belfast

Dr Theodore Zanto, lead author of the study, from the University of California, SAN Francisco, said: ‘I am one of those who has had an awkward moment at a children’s birthday party, after meeting a few people in a row, then forgetting one face, and introducing myself to that person again.

‘A good memory for faces is also useful when identifying the correct waiter to chase up a bill you had asked for, or returning to the right person at a bar if you’ve left your bank card behind with them.

‘This study suggests learning a rhythm improves your short-term memory generally, so that you can encode and recall someone’s face, and avoid that awkwardness.’

Musicians are known to have better short-term memories, and a lower risk of dementia.

But the new study set out to identify if non-musicians could benefit from a short burst of musical training.

Researchers looked at 18 older people given training similar to drum lessons, where they saw a sequence of drum beats visually on a screen, then had to repeat the drum sequence by tapping the screen for the entirety of a song.

These people, aged 60 to 79, did 20-minute sessions five days a week for eight weeks.

Another 19 older people spent the same amount of time simply completing word searches.

After learning to keep a beat, people were four per cent better at correctly identifying a similar or different face to one they had seen three seconds earlier.

But the word search group saw no improvement in their ability to remember a face.

Brain scans done on people who learned to drum showed greater activity in their brain’s right superior parietal lobe in the period after seeing a face for the first time.

This suggested improved storage of that face in their short-term memory.

People who were better at drumming did better at remembering faces, according to the results, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But Dr Zanto said: ‘The bad news is that no one became a particularly good drummer, even if they got better at learning faces.

‘But these were non-musicians who had previously received less than three hours of music lessons in their lives.

‘Maybe if they kept going for longer, they could get even better at remembering people’s faces and even think about joining a rock band too.’


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