Wed, Apr 21, 21

Music, The Brain, And Why You Should Listen To Music

* Verified by a US-based board-certified doctor.

Music rocks, literally. It makes us move and is a part of every civilization in some form. Music can make you shift your body as well as your mood. It's been said that when you want to exercise your body - go to the gym, but when you want to exercise your brain - listen to music. Listening to music isn't just an enjoyable activity; it can stimulate your brain like few others. Exactly how beneficial is music to your brain? We'll tell you and why you should begin rockin' to good music immediately. 

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person holding cellphone listening to music

Music and Your Brain 

The way that our brain perceives and processes music is fascinating. Sound waves are collected by your external ear, where they are funneled down the ear canal to the eardrum.  Vibrations are created by the eardrum and then travel through the middle ear's tiny bones to the cochlea. Inside the cochlea, there are 10,000 to 15,000 little hair cells and fluid. The vibrations from the eardrum create waves of fluid in the cochlea that cause the little hair cells to sway. As they sway, the cells release neurotransmitters. The auditory nerve is activated by the neurotransmitters and sends tiny electrical currents to the brain's auditory cortex. 

Once the auditory cortex has been engaged, things get exciting. To simplify a complex process - the music is then interpreted and decoded by various parts of your brain. A healthy brain is more than capable of performing all the necessary tasks to process music efficiently. 

Music and Your Mind

Music is exciting because it is not just a sound; it is mathematical in nature, as well as structural. It has been observed that many musicians also have superior mathematical skills. The theory was called the Mozart Effect by researchers at the University of California, Irvine. They found that listening to music (initially, Mozart's sonata for two pianos) increased the intellectual abilities and spatial-temporal reasoning in the study's participants. They even compared Mozart with another musician's music - Phillip Glass. They found that Mozart was still the winner. 

The exact reasons for these results are unclear. It has been theorized that music organizes neurons' firings in the part of the brain responsible for higher functions. Music might be making our brain cells better at processing information. It has subsequently been thought that the actual results of those early studies were small and short-lived. Although a 2010 study debunked those initial findings, it did show that learning to play a musical instrument enhanced cognitive functions associated with language skills, attention, and memory

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Music and Your Mood 

Music can shift your mood in a short period of time. Cheerful music can take you from dark thoughts to feeling upbeat and energetic, while sad music can make you feel melancholy. You can count on this effect, even if you have depression or other mood disorders. A review of studies on music therapy for depression found that music effectively reduced the symptoms of depressive illnesses. More than mental or emotional pain, music is also able to decrease physical pain and disability, finds a 2006 study of 60 sufferers of chronic non-malignant pain.  

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Which Music is Best

At this point, you might be asking - which music is best for cognitive enhancement, mood improvement, or stress and pain relief? It turns out that it doesn't matter. You don't have to listen to Mozart or other classical music. It could be hip-hop, rock 'n' roll, or even country music. If you enjoy the music and the style resonates with you, it will positively affect your cognition. 

One study found that dementia patients responded well to music they grew up hearing. The positive effects on these participants were apparent even after verbal communication was no longer possible. The studies revealed that musical activities had a positive impact on people's behavior, emotion, and cognition.  

People at a concert

Brain Boosts from Music

Try these activities to bring more music into your life: 

Memory

If you're in the mood for a nostalgic walk down memory lane, consider playing music from the time period you'd like to remember. For instance, childhood memories may be stimulated if you listen to music your parents played around the house or in the car. Alternatively, if there are memories that you would rather forget, avoid the music, you would have heard during that time. Music, like smells, can elicit memories you didn't realize you had. 

Creativity

Although we tout the benefits of listening to familiar music, new music powerfully challenges your brain. Try listening to a new genre of music to excite your brain - literally. At first, you might not enjoy it, but that's why it's good for your brain. New music makes your brain have to work to make sense of it.  

Group singing and happiness

It's not just the music you hear that benefits you; it can also be the music you make. Singing makes vibrations flow throughout your body that releases endorphins and lowers cortisol (the stress hormone). Anticipating the changes to the song fills you with good feelings - dopamine. One study showed that group singing released an antibody that boosts your immune response.

We know that stress can have long-term adverse effects on our cognition. Stress can cause memory lapses, lack of concentration, and hinder learning. A study found that participants had significantly lowered cortisol levels and cortisone responses after singing. 

Drumming and brain function

a person playing the drums

Musical activities and training are a high-level workout for your brain. You learn to manage several complex tasks simultaneously toward mastery. This increases the capacity of your working memory, making it possible for you to do even more without your brain becoming overwhelmed. Not only will you remember things for longer, your ability to learn other new things will increase. Drumming has been found especially effective with achieving engagement with Alzheimer's patients. Of all musical training, drumming seems to have to quickest positive results.  

Related:  Mental Acuity: A Guide to Staying Mentally Sharp 

Final thoughts

We already knew how good music could make us feel. It's fantastic to find that it is also good for our brains. Make music a more significant part of your life and enjoy the amazing results. 

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