How to Learn an Instrument in Your Sleep

All you need is a wristband.

Jan 31 2014, 3:00pm

If you’ve ever wanted to learn a new skill but have the memory and self-motivation of a permanently stoned goldfish, then you’ll have dreamt of some magic brain injection where guitar chords or French could just be needled into your cortex.

Well, that's never going to fucking happen is it. But some science guys called Sheepdog Science have come close. They've developed a wristband that helps retain memories while in deep sleep by triggering a song when you’re out cold.

The concept works by playing a song while interacting with the memory you want to retain - IE learning every syllable of “Rap God” - then, when you reach the peak point of sleeping measured by the wristband, the company’s corresponding app will be triggered to start playing the same song from earlier. This audio then hooks the memory back into the brain ensuring better retention. This works through biasing the brain to better remember the information at the exact moment where new memories are born. The science being that during deep sleep, you have better retention of memories.

Looking to make sense of how I could learn to speak Swaghilli in my sleep, I tracked down Sheepdog Science’s founder Todd Anderson to talk Virgin Atlantic jazz and why I’d want to go to a memory palace.

Noisey: So we know that music is important to memory, but does it matter what genre it is?

Todd: We don’t know about the types of music importance yet, except that it has to fit three criteria; that it is reasonable to listen to whilst studying, sleeping, and unique enough to go with something you want to remember.

What music would you say correlates to that type of criteria?

We used a lot of ambient music for the experiment and what I’d call “Virgin Atlantic” jazz, which is pretty good mood music. More research is going to be conducted into the effects of different genres though.

Would you say that there are a lot of uses for the device?

It was initially started to help people study better, but you could also apply it to learning an instrument by listening to a certain song to trigger the memory of playing.

Has the design evolved?

First it was the size of a briefcase, which we hooked people up to, then we developed it to the size of a paperback book and then a headband. Now it’s going to be a wristband to wear whilst you sleep, it just seemed to make sense for being compact.

Are there any other memory techniques out there?

There’s the concept of a memory palace. It’s a technique for remembering that is used in memory championships. It involves a place you know well in your mind where you place pieces of information into this place in your mind. For example, you visualize a house, and under the carpet you’d place a sequence of numbers that you’d want to remember.

What aspects have you got planned next for the device?

What I really want to do is generate music on the fly with synthesized sounds based on the user’s environment and heart rate, using data collected from the wristband. Unique music is also needed because a particular song will become associated with a particular memory and thus a new song would be needed so they don’t become tangled, though that’s just a theory of mine as no concrete research has been done yet.

Thanks Todd!

Follow Dan on Twitter: @KeenDang