Music improves brain health and function in many ways. According to a publication in Bebrainfit— “How Music Affects The Brain”—music makes you smarter, happier, and more productive at any age. Listening is good, playing is better.
People around the world respond to music in a universal way. Advances in neuroscience enable researchers to quantitatively measure just how music affects the brain.
The interest in the effects of music on the brain has led to a new branch of research called neuromusicology which explores how the nervous system reacts to music.
And the evidence is in—music activates every known part of the brain.
Listening to and playing music can make you smarter, happier, healthier and more productive at all stages of life.
Evidence of how music affects the brain is given by the brains of those who play a lot of music—professional musicians.
Brain scans show that their brains are different than those of non-musicians.
Musicians have bigger, better connected, more sensitive brains.
Musicians have superior working memory, auditory skills, and cognitive flexibility.
Their brains are noticeably more symmetrical and they respond more symmetrically when listening to music.
Areas of the brain responsible for motor control, auditory processing, and spatial coordination are larger.
Musicians also have a larger corpus callosum. This is the band of nerve fibers that transfers information between the two hemispheres of the brain.
This increase in size indicates that the two sides of musicians’ brain are better at communicating with each other.
While most of us aren’t professional musicians, we still listen to a lot of music—on average of 32 hours per week.
This is enough time for music to have an effect on the brains of non-musicians as well.
Science has now proven what music lovers already know, that listening to upbeat music can improve your mood.
Listening to 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. Listening to sad music has its benefits too.
If you are going through a tough time, listening to sad music is cathartic. It can help you get in touch with your emotions to help you heal.
One of the ways music affects mood is by stimulating the formation of certain brain chemicals. Listening to music increases the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Dopamine 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, orgasm, and runner’s high.
Interestingly, you can further increase dopamine by listening to a playlist that’s being shuffled. When one of your favorite songs unexpectedly comes up, it triggers a small dopamine boost.
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.
There’s abundant evidence that listening to music at work can make you a happier, more productive employee.
This is especially true if you can choose your own music. 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.
Background music enhances performance on cognitive tasks, improves accuracy, and enables the completion of repetitive tasks more efficiently.
Software developers were happier and produced better work more efficiently when listening to music. When surgeons listened to music while operating, they were less stressed out and worked faster and more accurately, especially if they were allowed to pick the music.
Music can help people perform better in high-pressure situations. Listening to upbeat music before a game can keep athletes from choking under pressure.
Music is a source of creativity, especially when it’s upbeat. When study participants listened to music labeled “happy,” their creativity went up.
They came up with more creative solutions and a greater number of ideas than those who listened to other kinds of music or no music at all.
Interestingly, participants didn’t have to like the music they were hearing to reap these benefits. Music has the power to bring forth our better nature.
Studies have been done on voluntary behaviours intended to benefit others such as empathy, kindness, generosity, helpfulness and cooperation.
Listening to music makes people more inclined to spend time and energy helping others. This is especially pronounced when music is appreciated in a group such as when dancing, playing music with others, or attending a concert.
Listening to positive lyrics can affect how kind and generous you will be and even how you’ll spend your money. Positive song lyrics help make people less prejudiced and fearful of those different than them.
Children with musical backgrounds 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.
Just a half-hour music lesson increases blood flow in the left hemisphere of the brain. There’s evidence that a little bit of music training goes a long way.
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.
Children who sing together in a choir report higher satisfaction in all their classes, not just music.
Babies who had music lessons communicated better, smiled more, and showed earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music.
Music, whether taught in or outside of school, helps students excel. Spatial intelligence, for instance, helps students understand how things work together.
Music protects against memory problems and cognitive decline even more so than other leisure activities. Listening to music has been shown to significantly improve working memory in older adults.
It can alleviate the symptoms of mood and mental disorders including anxiety, depression, insomnia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia.
It shows promise in treating stroke, autism, Parkinson’s, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.
It can also help with the psychological aspects of illness and can improve the quality of life in patients with cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s and chronic pain. Listening to music reduces the stress experienced by patients both before and after surgery.
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.
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.
What is the best kind of music to listen to? The answer is: “It depends.” First, consider what you hope to achieve. For example, listening to tunes with lyrics can be distracting if you are trying to learn and process new information.
However, this kind of music can actually be helpful if you are working on repetitive or mundane tasks.
A surprising finding is that listening to the wrong kind of music for the situation can sometimes be dangerous!
You’ll always get more benefits from listening to music you actually like.
Neuro scientists have found that listening to music you like increases blood flow to the brain and brain connectivity more than listening to music you don’t like.
Also, the number of areas in the brain activated by music varies depending on your musical background and tastes.
Research confirms that the best type of music to increase focus and productivity should first and foremost be music you enjoy.