You’re driving down the road, listening to the radio, and then a song comes on that flips your happiness switch. Instantly, you’re in a better mood and ready to do whatever the day has in store for you. The magic of music has struck again – but how can something so intangible have such a positive effect on us?
When it comes to the human brain, the answer is never simple. There is more than one thing that happens to the human brain when we listen to music.
Music is the greatest creation of mankind. Creativity in its pure and unadulterated form is the true definition of music. Music is an important part of our lives because it is a way to express our feelings and emotions.
Some people consider music as a way to escape the pain of life. It provides you with relief and allows you to relieve stress. Music is an effective therapy that calms you down and makes you cheerful in moments of joy. It also develops the mind and boosts self-confidence. Music plays a more important role in our lives than just being a source of entertainment.
“There are few things that stimulate the brain like music,” says a Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist. “If you want to keep your brain on its toes during the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It is a complete workout for the brain.”
Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure and pain, as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness and memory.
The connection between the brain and music
Experts are trying to understand how our brain can hear and play music. A stereo system emits vibrations that are transmitted through the air and somehow enter the ear canal. These vibrations tickle the eardrum and are converted into an electrical signal that travels through the auditory nerve to the brainstem, where it is reassembled into something we perceive as music.
Johns Hopkins researchers had dozens of jazz artists and rappers improvise music while lying down in an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine to see which areas of their brains lit up.
“Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of calculations to understand it,” explains an otolaryngologist.
Music, Your Brain, & Wellbeing
One of the first things that happens when music enters our brains is the activation of pleasure centers that release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of happiness. This response is so rapid that the brain can anticipate even the most pleasurable spikes in familiar music and prepare with an early dopamine surge.
However, there is evidence that music not only makes you feel good, but can also be good for your health. Research has shown that listening to music is associated with an increase in immunity-boosting antibodies and cells that protect against bacteria and other invaders. In addition, music has been shown to be effective in a variety of treatment scenarios, from premature birth to depression to Parkinson’s disease.
Music may also play an important role in brain development. For example, playing an instrument is thought to increase gray matter volume in certain areas of the brain, much like physical exercise can tone and enlarge muscles. As a result, musicians often improve brain functions such as:
- Auditory processing
Here are some of the benefits that music has for health and well-being:
- It is healthy for the heart. Research has shown that blood flows more easily when music is played. It can also lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and increase serotonin and endorphins in the blood.
- It elevates mood. Music can boost the brain’s production of the hormone dopamine. This increased dopamine production helps relieve anxiety and depression. Music is processed directly by the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for mood and emotions.
- It relieves stress. Research has shown that listening to music can relieve stress by triggering biochemical stress reducers.
- It relieves symptoms of depression. When you’re feeling down, music can help you pick yourself back up – much like exercise.
- It stimulates memory. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia, but music therapy has been shown to relieve some of the symptoms. Music therapy can relax a troubled patient, improve mood and encourage communication among patients.
- It manages pain. By reducing stress levels and providing a strong, competing stimulus to pain signals entering the brain, music therapy can help with pain management.
- It relieves pain. Music can significantly reduce perceived pain intensity, especially in geriatric care, critical care or palliative care.
- It helps people eat less. Having soft music playing in the background during a meal (and dimming the lights) can help people slow down when eating and eventually eat less food at a time.
- It increases endurance during workouts. Listening to the best workout songs can boost physical performance and increase endurance during a hard workout session.
Music is one of the most universal expressions of human life. Music is present in the daily lives of people of all ages and from all cultures around the world. Music is a pleasurable activity in and of itself, but its influence goes beyond mere entertainment. Listening to, singing, playing, composing, and improvising music is an everyday activity for many people: not only does it allow people to express personal inner states and feelings, but it also has many positive effects on those who engage with it. Recently, many benefits of musical activities have been recognized: Musicological research has identified several dimensions of human life (cognitive, psychological, social, and emotional) that seem to be positively affected by music.
The impact of musical activities on human life can be traced to several processes.
One of them is the transfer of learning from music to other cognitive domains. Learning transfer means that skills acquired in a particular cognitive domain can be transferred and used in other areas of human activity. Skills developed through musical training can be used effectively in other cognitive tasks.
Given the social component of musical activities, music can also impact social skills and social inclusion by promoting individual participation in collective and community musical events. Fostering social participation through music can promote many types of inclusion in a broad perspective, including intercultural, intergenerational, and disability-related aspects.
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