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How listening to music affects the brain

by Sangam Adhikari

Music can soothe us or set us into a frenzy. It has that power. Music is part of our heritage, our inherency after hundreds of thousands of years where tribal bonding and rituals were often carried out with drumbeat and ritual dancing, or the music of the common folk (peasants) celebrated at harvest time or the coming of Spring, right through to rise of Western religious music and then onto secular music of the modern era. All cultures utilise music as a group bonding, a form of psychic cohesion used for special social events, both secular and religious.

Music is very well known to be a stress reliever to human. Music affects one’s brain in many different ways. Songs with the pop genre are more likely to cause someone to be happy, energized and relaxed. Sad songs may cause someone to be in very deep emotion. Classical songs are best to listen to when you are studying. Studies said that classical songs can cause people to be very calm, relaxed and focused. It is believed that songs like Pachelbel’s Canon, Turkish March and Fur Elise are able to significantly increase your concentration. Generally, music is able to motivate someone, change someone’s mood and they can also help you relieve stress.

Woman in Gray Tank Top Lying on Bed

Listening to music is a legitimately pleasurable experience. One of the reasons is that when you listen to music, your brain releases endorphins. Endorphins are peptides that activate the mu-opioid receptor in the brain, causing the sensation of pleasure. Opioid drugs like morphine have the same action. Endorphins can often be released because of pain, their opioid action makes them potent painkillers, but they are also released because of pleasure. In fact, the pleasure derived from exercise, eating, and alcohol intoxication are all caused by endorphins.

Music affects the brain in many positive ways. It makes you smarter, happier and more productive at any age. Listening is good, playing is even better.

  • Music has played an important part of every human culture, both past and present.
  • People around the world experience universal responses to music.
  • We’re all familiar with how certain pieces of music can change your mood, get you motivated, or help you concentrate.
  • And now, advances in neuroscience enable researchers to quantitatively measure how music affects the brain.
  • Their discoveries are exciting, and good news for music lovers.
  • Music is a fantastic brain exercise that activates every known part of the brain.
  • Music can make you smarter, happier and more productive at all stages of life.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the latest findings on the many ways both playing and listening to music can enhance your brain.

1. Musicianster Brains

plasma ball digital wallpaper

If you want evidence of how music affects the brain, it makes sense to look at the brains of people who play a lot of music — Professional Musicians.

Brain scans show that their brains are different from the rest of ours. Their brains are noticeably more symmetrical. Areas of the brain responsible for motor control, auditory processing, and spatial coordination are larger. They also have a larger corpus callosum. This is the band of nerve fibres that enables the two hemispheres of the brain to communicate with each other.

2. Music Can Improve Your Mood

Close-up Photo of a Woman Listening to Music

Most of us aren’t professional musicians, but listening to music can still enhance your work performance. Listening to music at work can make you a happier, more productive employee, especially if it’s music you’ve chosen.

Office workers allowed to listen to their preferred choice of music complete tasks more quickly and come up with better ideas than those who have no control over their musical choices.

Science has now proven what music lovers already know, that listening to upbeat music can improve your mood. Listening and playing music reduces chronic stress by lowering the stress hormone cortisol. Music can make you feel more hopeful, powerful, and in control of your life.

3. Music Boosts Brain Chemicals

One of the ways music enhances brain function is by stimulating the formation of certain brain chemicals.

Listening to music increases the neurotransmitter dopamine. This is the brain’s “motivation molecule” and an integral part of the pleasure-reward system. It’s the same brain chemical responsible for the feel-good states obtained from eating chocolate, and runner’s high. Playing music with others or enjoying live music stimulates the brain hormone oxytocin.

Oxytocin has been called the “trust molecule” and the “moral molecule” since it helps us bond with and trust others. There’s evidence that the oxytocin bump experienced by music lovers can make them more generous and trustworthy.

4. Music Helps You Learn

Diverse children learning biology on whiteboard

Many schools have cut music programs due to loss of funding, and this is widely believed by parents and educators to be a big mistake. Music, whether taught in or outside of school, helps students excel in the following ways:

  • Improved language development
  • A small increase in IQ
  • Improved test scores
  • Increased brain connectivity
  • Increased spatial intelligence

The last item on this list, spatial intelligence, helps students understand how things work together. This skill is critical in careers like architecture, engineering, math, and computer science. Counterintuitively, music can help students excel in science.

5. The Effects of Musical Training on Young Brains

In the 1990s, the effects of music on the brain were popularized by the Mozart effect. This theory purported that listening to music composed by Mozart can make you smarter.

Parents had their babies listening to the music of Mozart to give their brains a jumpstart, often even before they were born. The accepted theory now is that taking music lessons as a child enhances brain function and structure, but that there’s nothing uniquely beneficial about the music of Mozart.

Girl in White Long Sleeve Shirt and Black Pants Sitting on Bed

Children with musical training do better in subjects like language, reading, and math and have better fine motor skills than their non-musical classmates. Early music lessons encourage brain plasticity — the brain’s capacity to change and grow. And if kids don’t stick with their music lessons forever, that’s okay.

There’s evidence that a little bit of music training goes a long way. Just a half-hour music lesson increases blood flow in the left hemisphere of the brain. As little as four years of music lessons were found to improve certain brain functions, even when tested 40 years later!

When exposure to music training begins before age seven, the brain enhancement that takes place can last a lifetime. Kids who sing together in a choir report higher satisfaction in all their classes, not just music.

Photo of Toddler Playing Piano

Most studies on music and the brain have been done on older kids. But it looks like it’s never too young to start. Music lessons of sorts — playing the drums and singing nursery rhymes — were given to babies before they could walk or talk. Babies who had music lessons communicated better smiled more and showed earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music.

Just as it’s never too early to start, it’s also never too late to benefit from music either. Seniors who play an instrument, sing or dance reap physical, psychological and social benefits from music. Music protects against memory problems and cognitive decline more so than other leisure activities.

6. How Music Therapy Improves Quality of Life

Anyone can play or listen to music for “recreational purposes only” and still gain brain benefits.

But when professional health care help is warranted, you can enlist the aid of a music therapist. Music Therapists are trained to use music therapeutically to address their patients’ physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs. There are measurable changes in certain neurotransmitters following music therapy. Music therapy has proven useful for treating people with autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s, chronic pain, emotional trauma, and a variety of mental disorders including depression.

Potential benefits from working with a music therapist include improved mood, concentration, and motivation, and decreased anxiety, anger, stress, and frustration.

7. The Amazing Way Music Therapy Helps Alzheimer’s Patients

One of the most remarkable successes of music therapy is the impact it has on the lives of Alzheimer’s patients. Advanced Alzheimer’s patients lose their ability to have interactive conversations with others and eventually stop speaking completely. But music therapy has been very successful at getting through to patients even when nothing else has.

When hearing familiar music, patients often visibly “light up” and sing along. It seems that musical memories far outlast other kinds of memories. Caretakers and family members report that for most patients, music therapy is the best part of the day.

Music therapy does more than help patients remember. It helps alleviate depression, anxiety, and agitation while improving brain function and overall quality of life.

8. Music as gymnasium of the mind and the body

Young female athlete training alone on treadmill in modern gym

Music is a multifaceted discipline. Even in the beginning stages of learning, the brain is constructing a juggling act of sorts. Whether the student is learning to play by ear or more intensively, pursuing music theory, harmony, composition, and arranging, the levels of concentration are in full force. The instruments are studied and fine motor skills are honed. The ear learns to define pitch levels and expression nuances. The ear seeks out variations in volume and tempo. The use of diagrams and sheet music stimulate the vision to explore the various territories. The brain computes the unification of all these concepts and much more to produce music. When a music session is over the brain still is buzzing with cerebral resonance.

These events stimulate various parts of the brain and process motor coordination. While going about daily routines and tasks the brain is much quieter. Music is the gymnasium of the mind and body. When the workout routines are accomplished, The complete being is revitalized.

9. How Music Affects the Brain: The Bottom Line

There’s strong evidence that playing a musical instrument or listening to music can positively impact brain health and function. This brain-boosting effect is evident at all stages of life.

Everyone benefits, from babies to seniors. Music can improve mood, increase intelligence, enhance learning and concentration, and ward off the effects of brain ageing.

If you look back into history as far as you can, music has always been there. Music has always been used in rituals and celebrations. The frequencies that music creates activated and stimulates certain parts of your brain. You don’t have to be a doctor to know this. You can see it in yourself if you pay attention. Like how you feel listening to different types of music. It just invokes certain feelings. It can help you cry, smile, be in love, concentrate just to name a few.

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