From a study by Peterson DA, and Thaut MH:
Anecdotal and some empirical evidence suggests that music can enhance learning and memory. However, the mechanisms by which music modulates the neural activity associated with learning and memory remain largely unexplored. We evaluated coherent frontal oscillations in the electroencephalogram (EEG) while subjects were engaged in a modified version of Rey’s Auditory Verbal Learning Test (AVLT). Subjects heard either a spoken version of the AVLT or the conventional AVLT word list sung. Learning-related changes in coherence (LRCC) were measured by comparing the EEG during word encoding on correctly recalled trials to the immediately preceding trial on which the same word was not recalled. There were no significant changes in coherence associated with conventional verbal learning. However, musical verbal learning was associated with increased coherence within and between left and right frontal areas in theta, alpha, and gamma frequency bands [emphasis added]. It is unlikely that the different patterns of LRCC reflect general performance differences; the groups exhibited similar learning performance. The results suggest that verbal learning with a musical template strengthens coherent oscillations in frontal cortical networks involved in verbal encoding [emphasis added].
Here we see that while you can learn lists without music, the different parts of the brain work (if you’ll excuse the expression) in better harmony when lists are put to music. As any chemistry student who memorized the periodic table of the elements to Tom Lehrer’s”The Element Song”,
or history student who tried to pass the Reformation portion of the test by listening to Monty Python’s “Oliver Cromwell”
will tell you, your memory works better when you put things to music. Now we know why–the brain’s electrical waves are more coordinated when things are set to music.