How you ever noticed the way that music can affect you physically? For instance, when your favorite song comes on the radio, do you find yourself unintentionally hitting the gas pedal just a little harder?
Or, perhaps you're listening to an old favorite on your MP3 player as you clean the house. Without making a conscious decision, perhaps you found yourself moving to the beat and singing along.
Clearly, music has a significant physical impact on people. Did you know that music affects your brain as well?
It's true! Science demonstrates that music actually affects the brain. How does this work, and what kind of changes do listening to or playing music have on the human mind?
Keep reading to find out!
Your Brain on Music
Studies have shown that listening to music may have an impact on:
- Development of the brain;
- Mood; and
- Overall health.
When music is playing, it triggers the brain's pleasure centers. This releases dopamine, an essential neurotransmitter that gives you a happy feeling. A quick and automatic response, the brain even anticipates the parts of a familiar song that bring the most pleasure and gives you an anticipatory dopamine rush.
Scientists have further discovered that when people listen to music, they produce more immunity-boosting antibodies as well as cells that protect against invasion by bacteria. It's even possible that music can assist to alleviate problems and symptoms associated with premature birth, Parkinson's disease and depression.
Moreover, when an individual learns how to play an instrument, scientists believe that the training actually increases brain matter volume in key parts of the brain. It is an effect that is akin to what happens when you start working out regularly. Soon, your muscle tone and mass may begin to increase.
Thanks to an increased volume of gray matter, many musicians typically experience enhanced auditory processing, memory and learning abilities.
Which Parts of the Brain Are Stimulated by Music?
According to scientists, almost every component of the brain is in some way stimulated by music.
The frontal lobe, which primarily is responsible for decision-making, planning and thinking, is probably the brain's most critical component. This means that it is really important to keep the frontal lobe functioning optimally.
Fortunately, researchers say that regularly listening to music actually enhances the functioning of the frontal lobe.
What about the temporal lobe? This is the part of the brain that actually processes what your ears hear. It is both the auditory and language center of the mind. Consequently, we use the temporal lobe to appreciate music.
The occipital lobe is another fascinating part of the brain that is critical to the ability to appreciate and interpret music. In fact, this component is especially critical to professional musicians. That's because it is a visual cortex that musicians use when they hear music. Accordingly, musicians are able to visualize a musical score while they listen to a piece of music.
Thanks to the cerebellum, people are able to coordinate their movements and keep a warehouse full of physical memories. This is the part of the brain that makes it possible for a lifetime musician who has Alzheimer's to play the piano just as she did years ago. While she may have difficulty recognizing her loved ones, her cerebellum carries a lifetime's worth of muscle memory that does not fade away.
Have you ever noticed that your emotions can go through amazing transformations depending on the music that you're listening to? This is thanks to your amygdala. In this part of your brain, your emotions are triggered and processed. Music has the power to make you fearful, brave, happy or sad thanks to the functioning of your amygdala.
The hippocampus is a particularly critical part of your brain that is responsible for retrieving and producing memories. It also helps with regulating emotional responses and even assists with navigation. Scientists frequently refer to the hippocampus as the central processing unit of the human brain. When Alzheimer's strikes, it is the hippocampus that typically is the part of the brain that is affected first.
However, music is believed to enhance a process called neurogenesis, which occurs in the hippocampus. Through neurogenesis, new neurons are produced, and this has the effect of improving memory.
Musicians frequently have an especially well developed corpus callosum. This is the part of the brain that enables communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It's the corpus callosum that makes complex logical thought possible, and it also gives people intuition. The ability to coordinate body movements also originates here.
This is very helpful for musicians who need excellent coordination between the right and left halves of their brains. As an example, it is a well-developed corpus callosum that makes it possible for pianists to look at notes on a sheet of paper and translate them to the physical action of their fingers striking the piano's keys.
Even smaller components of the brain such as:
- Broca's Area
- Wernicke's Area
- The Nucleus Accumbens
- The Putamen
all are affected when people listen to or play music.
Does It Matter What Kind of Music You Listen To?
According to science, music may have a positive impact on your brain regardless of what musical genre you listen to. Researchers suggest that a person's brain likes whatever music that person likes and is accustomed to listening to.
This means that you don't have to force yourself to listen to classical music, jazz or something else that you may not like in order to receive the beneficial effects. Of course, there's no harm in branching out and trying some new genres.
Researchers also say that patients who are suffering from dementia benefit from listening to whatever music they enjoyed listening to when they were younger. When favorite songs are played for the patient, various parts of their brain light up. This suggests that listening to those songs is triggering emotional memories that do not fade with time.
The Effects of Music Are Limitless
Over the years, scientists have discovered that there is almost nothing that music can't do. They have described the ability of music:
- To alter a person's perception of time
- Reduce the frequency and severity of seizures
- Improve communication skills
- Make people more resilient
- Evoke memories
- Boost the immune system
When seen from this perspective, it's clear that listening to or playing music should be the pursuit of a lifetime.
It's Never Too Late to Start
Much has been made of the positive effects that music instruction can have on young children. It may help them to improve their academic performance, make them more empathetic, enhance their social skills and increase their ability to communicate.
However, this does not mean that adults cannot also benefit from learning how to play an instrument. It is common for older adults who embark on musical instrument lessons to report that their problem-solving abilities improved, that their memories were enhanced and that their span of attention increased.
Don't worry about becoming a great musician. Just do it for fun and for the health of your brain.
Expose Yourself to New Music
Many adults continue to listen to the same music that they loved when they were growing up. For many of them, this represents a fairly limited play list because unless they learned an instrument when they were kids, they really only heard the popular songs on the radio.
However, there may be enormous benefits to exposing yourself to what's popular on the radio today. You get bonus points for branching out to all sorts of other genres that you don't ordinarily listen to like folk, jazz, rock, reggae or something that is equally unfamiliar.
Why is it important to listen to music that is new to you? Because research shows that listening to new music challenges the brain in new ways. The brain gets a workout from struggling to make sense of the unfamiliar sounds. You know what your doctor says about the benefits of getting regular exercise for your body? The same is true for your mind.
Music for Pain and Stress Relief
Many adults and even some children suffer from conditions for which chronic pain is a symptom. Living in pain can take the joy out of life, but research shows that music actually can reduce pain sensations.
In the study, the scientists concluded that when people listened to relaxing music of their own choosing they experienced "reduced pain and increased functional mobility." It is believed that these effects were brought about by the natural release of opioids in the body, which are natural pain relievers.
Other studies have demonstrated that listening to music can be an effective coping strategy for reducing stress. Researchers reported that patients who listened to music while undergoing a medical treatment experienced far less pain and distress. In essence, listening to music lowers levels of the stress hormone called cortisol in the body, and that is beneficial for the mind as well.
How Will Music Change Your Brain?
At Prodigies Music, we already know that music has the power to change lives and minds. If you would like to guide your children onto a path that will keep them happier and healthier for a lifetime, then consider introducing music instruction at a young age.
Exposure to music helps with brain development and helps to enhance brain function throughout the span of a life. Start with a few video lessons from Prodigies Music to start experiencing the brain-changing effects of music today.