May 1, 2017

Psalms, Songs, and Smarts (Psalms part 7)

You might think it painfully obvious that singing the psalms would be a very natural, logical, and worshipful thing to do, and you would be right. Many people do so regularly, and I would definitely not be the first writer to tackle the subject. So rather than hitching another chorus of “Row, Row” to other writers’ “Boats,” let’s navigate this topic along a different tack.

I am writing this post with a very specific point in mind. We know that music alone has a special power to touch our hearts. We also know that when music is combined with words, the emotional impact can be multiplied greatly. What many people probably know, but rarely take time to think about, is that songs are also extremely powerful memory tools.

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When I was in elementary school (not too many thousands of years ago), one of my favorite classes was math. Yes, I was one of the nerdy kids. One of my favorite things about math class was when the teacher pulled out the record player (again, thousands of years ago, right?) and played little songs that helped us to memorize things like our multiplication tables.

Another thing from the pre-internet Dark Ages which I quite enjoyed was the Saturday morning cartoon lineup, which included an ingenious series of educational music videos which played during commercial breaks: Schoolhouse Rock. My favorite? The one where you learn to count to 100 by fives during a game of hide-and-seek! Even today, in my mid-forties, I can remember these little songs.

In the ages which have passed since my years in elementary school, much ado has been made in educational circles about memorization. More specifically, education theorists generally don’t like it. They prefer jumping right into the higher stages of the learning process like analysis and evaluation. Certainly these higher thinking skills are vital, but my years as a teacher (and a little common sense) have taught me that a firm foundation of basic factual knowledge is absolutely necessary before one can achieve any meaningful success with the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  This means that memorization, no matter the method, nor how quickly or slowly it happens, is an indispensible part of the learning process, and I am certainly not the first to come to this conclusion.

Jewish teachers have an ancient tradition of using music to memorize scripture, and they didn’t stop at the psalms; they used this technique for all of God’s Holy Word. The following passage from Psalm 119 highlights the importance of remembering (memorizing) the Word of God.

I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word(emphasis mine)
~Psalm 119:15-16

Now let’s be honest – it is not easy to get young children (or a good many adults) to pay attention to anything for long periods of time, especially in our age of increasingly short attention spans. We often want kids to memorize scriptures, but they can find the process boring and tedious. Some well-selected songs can grab their attention and help speed the learning process along (as well as working wonders for the teacher’s blood pressure).

Obviously, we should not stop our study of scripture at mere memorization, but memorization is a vital step in building a foundation of knowledge for later spiritual growth. In our efforts to help build God’s Kingdom, we would be wise to use all of the tools He has given us. Music, as it turns out, is one of the most powerful tools in the box.

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