A teacher I had in school used to tell us not to study with the radio on. His reasoning – simple – when we were in an exam situation, not having the radio on would impede our ability to recall the relevant pieces of information.
In my undergraduate degree in psychology, I learned he was right. I read about Godden and Baddeley’s study in relation to context-dependent memory. It showed that divers were more likely to remember things underwater if they had originally learned them underwater.
It’s a useful thing to know.
As I write this blog I’m listening to a beautiful live version of Bridge Over Troubled Water (thanks Sarah Crummy!) and it reminds me of struggling to learn it as a 16 yr-old. Back then my ear was pretty undeveloped and so I relied on sheet music to learn it.
And even now, more than 20 years later, the fact that I originally encoded this music visually not audibly makes it harder for me to improvise with it as I would other pieces that I originally learned by ear.
The context of how something enters your mind affects how you can use it at a later stage. Remember that next time you’re trying to learn something.