How many times have we wished to just walk in an exam and ace every single question because we remember everything and are able to cite an entire encyclopaedia?
The answer is probably never! Of course, you might have studied a topic extremely well, but the chances are that all the information that was stored in your brain will be ‘lost’, simply forgotten, in the next couple of years.
Although memory has been recognised as the human ability to encode, retain and recollect information, it is important to distinguish between two types of long-term memory: declarative and procedural.
Declarative memory is an explicit type of memory; it allows you to remember facts and figures. In other words, everything you have ever learned in school is part of this declarative memory because you purposely decided to store it in your brain. Furthermore, the information stored through this conscious act can be easily recalled when needed.
On the other hand, procedural memory is more implicit. This is triggered unconsciously and works by determining how you do things. For example, once you learned how to swim or ride a bike, you will automatically recall these skills and use them. These skills are usually reiterated in the brain through practice and repetition of the same activity/movement until the brain acquires it as something spontaneous.
Looking closer at song lyrics we can see how easily procedural memory can be applied. When we listen to a song for the first time, the first thing we remember is the melody of the song (recognition stage), secondly, the lyrics. Usually we will hear the song a number of times (repetition stage) - whether on the radio, voluntarily on our playlist, in a club - and at this point our brain will start to process the information and link the melody to the words. Once this association occurred, our brain will continue to recall automatically the lyrics whenever we hear the song, even if the song is played for five seconds.
There are very complicated explanations on how the brain manages to store information, but the most important thing to consider when talking about long-term memory - hence why we remember song lyrics - is because the brain does not store information in a specific place. Instead, the encoded data is spread throughout various areas of the brain, consequently, leading us to forget.
To simplify this concept, we should compare a memory to a puzzle. Since the information is spread around the brain, an automatic reconstruction needs to take place. Thus, when we forget something, or we are not quite sure whether what we remember is correct, it is because one of these puzzle pieces has gone ‘missing’, therefore the memory appears incomplete.
Some might argue that we remember song lyrics because this information is not being imposed to us, therefore it acts like a distraction or escape, but the truth is that the brain just needs practice and repetition to consolidate data.