To celebrate World Music Day, we asked five members of the Memrise team to share some thoughts with us about music. They told us their favourite bands, how they used music to learn, and even how music can help stroke patients regain the power of speech.
Discovering Australia’s undiscovered hip-hop scene
I chanced upon Australian hip-hop through Triple J, which is a public broadcaster in Australia, when they played some back in the late 90s.
It resonated with me straight away, as, unlike all of the American rubbish that was being played on all the commercial stations, this was in my accent, talking about things that related to me. To me, it embodied my part of Australia. Disillusioned and politically active, but still retaining a sense of fun and… laid-backness?
There’s actually a term that used to be used within the scene. Everyday styles. They were hip-hop, but they weren’t going to rap about ‘gats, hoes and 40s’. They were going to make music and rap about their lives, their struggles and what it was like growing up in the youth of Australia.
It is, I think, one of the most uniquely Australian genres of music you can find.
When songs don’t mean what you thought they did
Job: Localisation Manager
Favourite song: Anything by Julien Baker
Even if the last band you fell in love with sings in an ancient, endangered language, if their melodies tickle your brain, that’s all you need to love them unconditionally. But your heart knows: eventually you’ll need to understand what they are really all about and, let’s face it, you just want to sing along at the top of your lungs. At least I do.
When I was a kid, 99% of my favourite bands sang in English, and the Internet wasn’t mainstream yet, so unless the band published their album with a booklet and I had the money to buy it, I was doomed. So I’d listen to them on loop. First I’d grasp a bit of the chorus. Then, if I was lucky, I might catch the end of a verse.
With just that, I’d imagine what the song was about and it was always something deep and meaningful to me. As I grew up and started learning English like a pro, I was often so disappointed to discover how lame most of those lyrics were! The ones in my head were way better!
I still like those songs today but I’ll confess I have less respect for those bands. Now I’m older, wiser, and definitely pickier when it comes to choosing my Heart Songs.
How music helps recovering stroke patients
I found out that language and music have this super interesting overlap when my dad had a stroke a few years ago. At the same time, I had just started my Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics, so I approached the topic from both a personal and an academic angle.
I was astonished to discover that musical therapy is often used in patients suffering from speech impairments after a stroke.
The human brain is very innovative in reorganising tasks when a particular area becomes impaired. For example, when an individual’s primary speech production area (called Broca’s Area) which is predominantly located in the left hemisphere of the brain, is damaged following a stroke, the right hemisphere of the brain, where musical processing is mainly located, can take over some of its responsibilities. These language-capable regions can be trained to help patients speak again.
One example here is Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT), which focuses on using patient’s preserved singing capabilities to improve expressive language in these patients.
When music makes you fly
I love live jazz. There is something about it happening at ease, just by itself. Magical vibe.
Everybody tunes in, their energy unites and you feel the whole room, with all its people and their stories all coming together in your head.
The same happens, but ten times more intensely, when I listen to electronic jazz or acid jazz. Those are two genres where jazz really progressed for me. It combines jazz and soul, and funk, and disco!
Such a great combination will not leave you standing on your feet. You will fly off into the universe of unknown little explosions. I love it so much I can’t stop dancing.
Learning Chinese through song
Job: English Language Specialist
Favourite song: 死了都要爱 by 信乐团
Teaching yourself a language like Chinese can seem really intimidating. At the age of sixteen, when I first started learning it, I’m sure that if I’d tried to read a book in Chinese or the news, I most certainly would have given up very quickly.
But there was one resource that I managed to make the most of that, even with my very low level of Chinese, which helped me to learn and practise new words and sentence structures: music.
Listening to a song and learning the lyrics is a great way to learn a new language. As an added bonus, every time you listen to that song again, you will be revising what you learnt without even thinking about it.
The great thing about learning Asian languages through music too is that they often have music videos with subtitles, so you can follow along as you listen.
Just an extra tip for anyone thinking of learning Mandarin with music: don’t make the same mistake as me and start with Jay Chou. He might have a lot of great songs, but like a Taiwanese Shakira, he is notorious for eating his words and being pretty difficult to understand without subtitles.