Are You a Mozart or a Macklemore? : Ways Music Helps the Brain
“Without music, life would be a mistake”.
Friedrich Nietzche may have been skeptical about a lot of things, but the power of music was not one of them. Music has always played an extremely important role in the culture, history, and art of human nature. And while every distinct culture and nationality has it’s own musical heritage, music is also a common, universal experience. You may notice that certain pieces of music elevate your mood, get you excited, or help you concentrate. But music can do even more than that. Hit the gym if you want to body build, but listen to music if you want to work out your mind. Here are some of the few ways music helps your brain.
Music Helps the Brain By:
1. Improving Visual and Verbal Skills
Music stimulates pretty much every single area of the brain known to us. And while that is generally beneficial, music has a profoundly more permanent affect at an early age. Studies reveal that having a music education at a young age can help improve communication and visual skills. If you have kids that are 4 to 6 years old, studies have shown that even just short-term music training can increase their vocabulary ability. They should be able to comprehend words and explain them better than kids with no music training. For kids that are slightly older and already in school, taking music classes can result in having a higher verbal IQ. Overall, when exposed to music, you will find that children have better vocabularies (which in several years time could turn out to be extremely helpful on the SAT).
2. Boosting the Chemicals in your Brain
While playing music has the most benefits for your brain in terms of enhancing motor, visual, and vocabulary skills, listening to music has its neural benefits as well. Listening to music can stimulate certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine and oxytocin, which are essential for producing positive feelings and emotions. Dopamine is sometimes also called the ‘motivation molecule’ because it is necessary for our positive reward system. It’s also the neurotransmitter that gets released and makes us happy during sex, after a workout, and even while eating chocolate.
Oxytocin is a hormone that is associated with trust and morality. For example, oxytocin is released when a mother breastfeeds her newborn- encouraging bonding and trust between the baby and it’s mother. Oxytocin is an extremely important chemical, and there are some studies to show that the increased levels experienced by those that listen to music frequently can actually make them more generous and trustworthy. So the next time you are throwing a charity or just trying to get your friend to lend you money, consider making a suitable playlist- it could just tip them in the right direction.
3. Rehabilitating those with Dementia
Music has a profound effect on the aging brain. By stimulating different parts of the brain, it can help keep neural degeneration and dementia at bay. If you or someone you love has lost mobility or control over movement due to Parkinson’s or a stroke, music can help. Listening to music and motor control have common neural circuits, and because of this, music has been used to help rehabilitate movement and even cognition and language. For Alzheimer’s, studies have shown that music therapy can be extremely effective, even when nothing else seems to work. Patients with Alzheimer’s slowly degenerate- losing memory, cognition, and sometimes even the ability to interact and communicate at all. However, even when patients do not recognize loved ones, they still seem to be able to recognize music. Specialists have started using music as a way to communicate with patients suffering from Dementia as it seems music memory enriches their quality of life and also far outlasts other memories.
4. Reducing Stress Levels
If you find yourself feeling happy when you listen to upbeat music, it’s not all in your head. Well, technically it is in your brain, but music can help reduce stress by reducing the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, circulating through your body. This can help you relax, bring down blood pressure, and relieve muscle tension. This, in turn, can actually help your heart. The relaxation, reduction in muscle tension, and chemicals that are released can help improve vascular health and those suffering form heart disease. Some studies have shown that those who listen to music right after cardiac surgery experience less pain, are less anxious, and have slower heart rates. So if you find yourself panicking before your next big exam, meeting, or life-changing interview, try listening to some music to calm yourself down.
Whether you are a professional musician, an amateur that likes to moonlight as one, or just a person who loves listening to it, music benefits everyone. Being a happier, healthier, and even more intelligent person doesn’t just come from eating, exercising, and studying. By listening to even just 30 minutes of music a day, you can improve your mental and physical health. Depression, anxiety, heart disease, and even dementia, do not need to be as daunting as they seem. With a little music in your life, you can help yourself be a better you.
Deepti is a writer that specialises in neuroscience and psychology. She is passionate about modern medicine and finding other therapeutic techniques, and how both of these effect the developing brain. Deepti is extremely interested in the future of mental health awareness and treatment, and is always open to advice.