Music has been an integral part of society since the dawn of creation and it is just as popular now as it was all those hundreds of years ago, before the likes of Television and radio or similar inventions.
Music has the power to affect us in a variety of different ways, and truthfully, many people tend to use it as a coping mechanism for various hardships and times of struggle in their life.
Music can be uplifting, it can be dramatic, it can be exciting, it can be inspiring, it can be sad, it can be happy, it pretty much can be categorised under any general human emotion.
Music and the brain have a strange yet beautiful relationship with one another, with music affecting the brain in many different ways.
It can alter our consciousness, it can create a whole variety of different emotions, it can heal us, it can inspire us, and it can generally improve our lives.
Here are just a few examples of how music can affect the brain.
#1. It can bring back memories
One of the more prominent examples of how music affects the brain is the fact that it has been proven to help bring back memories, often from as far back as when we were young children.
We may hear a certain piece of music, or a similar piece of music perhaps, to what we used to hear when we were children, perhaps on the radio or on our favourite TV show, and will immediately experience vivid memories of hearing a certain song or piece of music when we were younger.
Not only will we remember hearing a certain song or piece of music however, but general memories of when we were that age will also come flooding back to us.
What’s especially interesting and promising about this however, is the fact that many experts now believe that music could actually be used as a unique treatment for individuals with memory problems, or problems affecting the brain.
For people suffering from amnesia, or traumatic brain injuries, music could be used to help bring back older memories and help these individuals reclaim pieces of their real selves.
#2. It improves focus
Have you ever noticed what happens when your favorite song comes on your playlist?
A sort of tunnel vision happens where you focus on the elements of the song and how they make you feel. This improved focus occurs because music is one of the few things in this world that stimulates the entire brain instead of just a portion of it.
This focus can be applied in many different ways. Some people use music to help them clear their minds when meditating. Others use music while studying or working so they are able to retain more of the information that they are attempting to absorb.
It can be used during a long session of running on a treadmill because it takes the mind’s focus off of fatigue and toward whatever the end goal happens to be.
One of the most unique focus points that music is able to create is a focus on sleep. For those who struggle to clear their minds because of racing thoughts or to-do lists at night, music will eliminate those distractions effectively and cause the mind to focus on the task at hand instead.
#3. It improves our creativity
Another very prominent way in which music affects the human brain, is that it has been found to improve and increase our creativity, especially where ambient music is used.
Obviously when we’re exercising or doing housework, we may use loud music to help keep us going, which we’ll be looking at in more detail shortly, but recent studies have found that background ambient music can be beneficial for improving general creativity.
Loud music can distract us, when performing tasks and activities that require higher levels of concentration, but ambient music does not. Basically, this works because moderate sound levels have been found to help us process tasks and thoughts more clearly, which in turn makes us that little bit more creative.
Artists and writers in particular, can benefit from ambient music playing gently in the background whilst they work.
If the music is too loud, they won’t be able to think clearly and would quickly find themselves becoming overwhelmed, which would be counter-productive. Ambient music on a moderate volume however, has the opposite effect.
#4. Music increases our verbal IQ levels
When we listen to, and play music, not only can it evoke a whole range of human emotions, it can also improve and increase our verbal IQ levels as well.
Experts believe this is due to the fact that listening to music, and actually playing music, can stimulate the brain, basically sharpening it and allowing it to take in and process more information around it.
Studies have revealed that young children aged between 8 and 11 years old, that regularly listened to, and also played music instruments regularly, were able to develop much higher verbal IQ levels than other children of the same age, that did not listen to, or play musical instruments on a regular basis.
#5. Music can alter our state of consciousness
It may sound a little bizarre and out there, but music has been proven to have the ability to alter and shift a person’s state of consciousness, in a number of different ways.
For example, with individuals engaging in musical therapy, studies have revealed that music has the ability to move that person’s perception of time. It has been found to alter their perception of time from what is known as ‘virtual time’ to ‘experimental time’.
Virtual time is described as minutes, hours, and seconds, whilst in experimental time, people often encounter states of tension, followed by states of resolution.
Simply put, slow moving music can create the effect of being able to actually alter time, as slow music will create an illusion of time moving slower than it actually is.
#6. It eases pain
Not only does music alter our consciousness when it comes to our time perception, but it also changes how our nerves perceive certain stimuli as well. When music is being played in the background of any environment, it can reduce the intensity of pain that is being experienced.
This applies to all levels of suffering, from those who are in an intensive care ward to those who are receiving palliative and hospice care.
Music is able to do this because it has a unique ability to relax the human body. This relaxation effect does more than just relieve the intensity of pain that is being experienced. It also helps the body to heal more quickly after a difficult workout or a tough day at work.
Slower music provides greater effects in this area, but all music can ease the pain from the day without the need for painkillers.
#7. Musical choices can affect our personalities
Another very interesting way in which music can affect our brains is the fact that the musical choices and preferences that we make, can actually shape and mould our personalities, which means that music can generally influence the people that we become.
In a number of studies and tests carried out on younger individuals, the results all seemed to point to the fact that certain musical preferences did indeed correspond to certain character traits in many individuals.
Opera fans for example, were generally found to be gentle, creative, and have high levels of self-esteem. Country and western music fans were found to be outgoing and very hardworking, whilst reggae fans were found to be far more laid back, less hard working, and much more at ease.
There are of course, many, many more categories of music which were tested and to list them all would take us all day, but the above does indeed give a general indication that musical choices could affect and influence our personalities later in life, especially in younger children/adults still growing up and maturing.
#8. Music can improve productivity
Another great way in which music is able to influence us and affect our bodies, and one which we touched upon previously, is the fact that music can help to increase and improve productivity in certain circumstances and tasks.
Music and brain research conducted over the years has found that music stimulates human brain receptors, which communicate with other parts of the body, and can help to improve productivity in a number of different ways.
Let’s look at working out in the gym for example. When we hear our favourite song, played at a high volume, our brains will recognise this, and stimulate the adrenal glands.
Once the adrenal glands become stimulated, they secrete adrenalin which increases heart rate, it improves mental clarity, and it provides a natural stimulant effect which can make us much more productive.
If you’re feeling tired and lethargic whilst working out, you need a natural pick me up and energy boost to increase your productivity.
A sudden increase in adrenalin, and other hormones as well for that matter, will do just that so you have more energy and more strength, and can just generally get more done as a result.
The same goes for housework. Studies have found that listening to your favourite music will help stimulate adrenalin secretion, and other hormones, which will increase your mental focus, as well as physical energy levels too.
#9. Improved visual attention
Another main influence of music on the brain is that it can also help to improve visual attention in children and adults alike, particularly in stroke patients.
Classical music in particular, is being employed more and more in stroke rehabilitation techniques as studies have revealed that stroke patients listening to classical music show a distinct improvement in their visual attention levels than when no music is used.
To compare results, silence, and white noise has also been utilised, with silence proving the least beneficial at improving visual attention levels.
#10. It influences hormone secretion
We mentioned how listening to our favourite music at a relatively high volume can lead to increases in the secretion of adrenalin and “other” hormones.
Well, now it’s time to take a look at the “other” hormones in question. It all relates back to what scientists refer to as brain chemistry.
When we listen to sad music, music we dislike, or music which brings back painful memories for example, stress hormones such as epinephrine or prolactin, may be released by various glands in the body, which make us stressed, sad, and upset.
On the flipside when we listen to music which we happen to enjoy, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins may be secreted by glands in the brain and body, which make us feel happy, confident, and relaxed.
These are the same hormones which are released when we exercise, have fun, or consume foods which we enjoy eating, chocolate for example.
#11. It can eliminate anxiety
Listening to your favorite songs can be just as beneficial as a 30 minute massage can be at relieving worry and anxiety.
This occurs because blood flow becomes more efficient and the mind clears itself of all the “what if” scenarios that it has been considering. More oxygen + fewer thoughts = one happy individual.
Want to double the impact that music can provide? Schedule a 30 minute massage and bring a playlist of your best songs.
This is particularly useful for individuals who are facing a difficult medical diagnosis. A late stage cancer, a debilitating disease, or other health issues can create enormous levels of anxiety and stress on an individual.
By focusing on the music instead of the present problems, the anxiety slips away and the quality of a person’s life begins to improve.
#12. It improves our reasoning and motor skills
A number of recent tests have also revealed that individuals that listen to music regularly, and play musical instruments, generally display superior motor skills than those that don’t.
They have also been found to have a much more rational way of thinking and reasoning, displaying much calmer emotions, especially when placed under pressure.
With children in particular, when learning to play a musical instrument, children have been found to be able to distinguish the differences between shapes, colours and patterns far better than children that don’t play musical instruments.
What’s especially promising however, is that they are also far more likely to read physical emotions, and distinguish the differences between various emotions, based upon facial expressions and body language.
Because of this, children suffering with autism, where one of the main side effects of that affliction is not being able to read emotions very clearly, are being prescribed musical therapy more and more, with some pretty impressive results being reported.
#13. Music can help bring people together
Music is often used at social events, parties, weddings, concerts, shows, etc, so naturally it is very much a social activity that can help bring people together and relate with one another much easier.
By sharing the same interests and tastes in music, people immediately have things in common and it is not uncommon for relationships to be formed based upon musical preferences and tastes.
On first dates for example, where small talk can be awkward, especially if you can’t really think of much to talk about, by talking about your tastes in music, your favourite bands or singers for example, if you share the same tastes, you will immediately have something in common and a foundation to base the majority of your small talk as you grow more comfortable and more confident with one another.
Choirs and singing groups are another great example of how music brings people together. When singing as part of a group, and synchronising with each other, feelings of affiliation within these groups will be increased, and individuals may feel closer to one another than before, like teammates, or even like family members.
#14. Music can help treat heart disease
Heart disease is very common and it is one of the biggest killers in the entire world, so naturally, doing all that we can to help protect against it should be at the top of our list of priorities.
Common side effects associated with heart disease, are stress and anxiety. Studies have revealed that by listening to various forms of music, anxiety, stress, and tension levels in patients being treated for coronary heart disease, dropped quite dramatically.
Blood pressure levels, which also play a key role in coronary health, were also reduced greatly.
#15. Music can help us to read other people
Another interesting and beneficial effect that music has on our brains is that it can also help us to read other people more effectively and more efficiently.
We mentioned previously about how children with autism can struggle to read human emotions, but in reality, even everyday individuals can also benefit from this character trait, especially in certain social situations.
By listening to what is described as ‘happy’ and ‘uplifting’ music in regular intervals, people have been found to be able to better identify facial expressions and body language associated with feelings of happiness and other similar emotions.
When doing the same with sad and depressing pieces of music, again, the same results were achieved, except this time with negative expressions and body language.
#16. Music can increase your immune system
Your immune system is your body’s natural defence against illness and disease, so naturally the stronger your immune system becomes, the healthier you become as a result.
A strong immune system is not only able to help protect against common illnesses such as a winter cold or mild flu symptoms, it can also help to protect against more serious illnesses and diseases such as cancer.
Whilst healthy foods and supplements rich in vitamins and minerals are considered the most effective methods of increasing our immune system, music has also been found to improve it as well, in a number of different ways.
Happy music that we enjoy can reduce or prevent the secretion of these hormones altogether, so the less of them flowing through our bodies, the healthier the immune system becomes.
Going one step further however, positive hormones such as dopamine, and endorphins have been found to strengthen and improve the immune system, both of which can be naturally increased by listening to music.
The immune system responds very negatively to stress, so keeping stress levels as low as possible is key here, and as music can be an effective stress-buster, it’s no wonder why music is considered so beneficial for the immune system.
What are the most effective ways of influencing our brains via music and similar stimulus?
So, now that we’ve looked at a few of the effects that music can have on the brain, and indeed the rest of the body too for that matter, before we wrap things up, many people often wonder what are the most effective ways of influencing our brains via music and other stimulus.
One popular technique that more and more experts are utilising on a daily basis, is one known as brainwave entrainment. Brainwave entrainment refers to the brain’s natural responses to sensory stimulation such as sound, pulses of light, or music.
Once the brain is stimulated, whether it be via the eyes, or the ears, electrical charges are emitted in response. These make their way through the brain and basically make up whatever it is that we’re hearing and/or seeing.
As the brain receives these stimulus, a drum beat for example, within the brain, the rhythm of the drum will be re-enacted in the form of electrical impulses, which can be seen and measured when electrodes are placed and worn upon a person’s scalp.
The brain eventually synchronises with these patterns of noise and/or light which can help us to almost “train” our brains to become more efficient at certain tasks or activities, including sleep.
Brainwave entrainment techniques are being used more often to help treat patients suffering from insomnia, as well as elevated stress levels, and thus far the results are looking very positive.
Music has an incredible way to change our lives for the better.
Whether you sing in the shower or listen to music to experience one of these unique benefits, there is one thing that is for certain: without music, our lives would be very different indeed.