Some people reading this may be plugged into headphones on their smartphones, or have a radio playing in the background, or listening to CDs.
All of them in some way or another are tapping (and maybe literally!) to music, the surround sound of their lives.
Not everyone enjoys music, certainly. But science is showing it’s a good idea to get into the swing of it.
Research suggests that music can stimulate the body, help lift your spirits, and may be even make your brain work better – i.e., smarter. Neuroscience researchers have measured how music affects the brain and call the research neuromusicology, which explains how the nervous system interacts with music.
Music can help reduce stress, even help people fight through illness and surgery. For aging adults facing neurological disorders or dementia, music has shown promise for helping to regain some function or maintaining the brain capacity.
Music also may be helpful if you are just feeling blue, or going through some difficult times. It can help you by relating to comforting words in a song. Overall, listening and playing music, too, can help make you more productive.
Music For Tough Times
As we listen to music, our brains and inner voices may be thinking, as one study said, “How do I feel right now? How do I want to feel in five minutes? What music will help me achieve these goals?” It notes: “Music has profound effects and implicates mood maintenance.”
Can the brains be different while in music? Some say musicians have bigger and more sensitive brains. Some scientists also say that music may increase mathematical ability, by helping to improve nerve cells on the right side of the brain responsible for higher functions. Regardless of what some may call music and some may call noise, the brain and the nervous system seems to figure it out for each person. When music is stimulating the brain, it literally lights up areas of the brain that is involved in emotion and memory, some studies say.
How Music Gets To You
Music arrives in the ear by sound waves. The ear collects the sound waves and the ear canal funnels them to the eardrum. As the waves strike the eardrum, they cause it to vibrate. The brain’s cerebellum, processes rhythm, and the frontal lobes interpret the emotional content of music.
At An Early Age
Studies show that music can impact brain development for language, attention and emotions at an early age. As people get older, listening to music can help mood and overall feelings of well-being. One study compared the benefits of music to those of medication, and found that both were linked to significant improvements in mood and sleep quality.
The natural feel good chemicals
Music releases chemicals that help reduce stress and improve mood, such as endorphins and oxytocin. It also reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and increases dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Dopamine is the brain’s motivation molecule and an integral part of the pleasure and reward system.
Helping With Illness
Studies have shown music benefits for people who have had heart attacks and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease patients. Music also may be helpful for people with other conditions such as dementia, traumatic brain injury, stroke, autism and hearing loss. Music interventions also have been used to help alleviate symptoms and treatment side effects of cancer patients.
The other side of music
Actually, sometimes listening to music may make us feel worse, depending on our mood and the kind of music it is. Music can be unsettling sometimes, if there are themes that illicit a stressful response, and it may be better off just to be silent. Slow chord progressions with long notes may be calming, while other music may seem chaotic, according to a Time report.
Generally, however, music is a soothing elixir for the soul and the mind, whether we’re listening to classical music at work, or having a dance party with friends. Enjoy as the beat goes on!
- Brad J, Dileo, C, et al. Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients. Cochrane Database System Rey. 2016. Aug 15: (8): CD006911. Doi:10.1002/14651858. CD0006911.pub3
- MacDonald, R.A., BSc, phD, C Psyhol AFBPS, Music, health and well-being: A review. International Journal of Quality Studies Health and Well-being. 2013; 8: 10.3402/qhw.v8i0.20635.
- Chan M, Wong, Z, et al. A systematic review on the effectiveness of music listening in reducing depressive symptoms in adults. JBI Library System Review 2010. 8 (31): 1242-1287.
- Grape, C., Sandgren, M., Hansson, L.O., Ericson, M., & Theorell, T. (2003). An emprical study of professional and amateur singers during a singing lesson. Journal of Integrative Physiological Behavioural Science, 38, 1, pp. 65-74.