Does music affect the brain? It does in a variety of ways.
The key benefits of listening to music can help you to become more productive, relieve stress, and reduce your anxiety levels.
You can even see the positive influences of music when you learn how to play an instrument or start writing new songs.
The power of music is so profound that it can even soothe a broken heart or reduce the pain of grief.
It can motivate you to work harder and longer when working out so that your body can maintain its correct metabolism balance.
The presence of music can help you sleep at night, dance until morning, or even improve your focus and concentration at the office.
Humanity and music have always been intertwined because of how it affects the brain.
Many of the ways that previous civilizations used music to create specific benefits are still in practice today.
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Historical Uses of Music and Its Benefits
When you take a look at the history of musical therapy, you will discover that it first came to prominence in Greek mythology and philosophy.
At the same time, tribal cultures around the world were developing music to be an integrated part of their culture.
Each tribe would create their own spiritual songs, festival melodies, and oral traditions – some of which are still in use today.
Music therapy was an integral part of our culture during the two different world wars in the 20th century as well.
Musicians in communities all over the world played for wounded soldiers and suffering veterans.
Nurses, doctors, and the patients who received music exposure noted differences in their mood and positive emotions.
There were noted improvements in their pain levels, as well as their outlook on life despite their injuries.
Playing music was so effective that doctors began to hire musicians during the world wars to play in field hospitals.
How Modern Music Affects the Brain
Music therapy is useful in all population groups today.
The benefits of these melodies can impact the human body in many positive ways.
What makes it such a compelling option for therapy is the fact that there is individualization in the results.
An adult might find numerous health benefits because they started to learn how to play an instrument for the first time.
Teens could find that music affects their brain in positive ways when they start writing some songs.
Children may experience the benefits by listening to music, creating interactive movements that work with it, or singing along to their favorite tunes.
Music helps to make life fun at any age. It provides options for physical and mental relief.
That’s why it is imperative to review the essential ways that music affects the brain.
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#1. Memory Improvement
Music has a unique ability to improve the memory mechanisms of the brain.
It helps to bring back memories, as far back as childhood, to make them feel relevant once again.
This benefit engages whenever you hear a specific piece of music that is related to a memory stored in your brain.
It might have been something you heard on the radio, a TV show, or a song your parents used to sing.
Once the song is heard, the memory of that moment comes back in vivid detail.
The power of music is strong enough that it cuts through dementia and health issues like Alzheimer’s disease.
In the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, Nicholas Simmons-Stern makes this observation.
“I’ve heard tales of patients who are able to sing songs they learned decades ago or use music to remember times of their lives that were otherwise lost. Beautiful anecdotes about parents or grandparents that were once avid musicians, who, despite an inability to dress themselves… are still able to play songs on the piano or violin with ease.”
This effect creates the potential to treat individuals suffering from amnesia, traumatic brain injuries, and health issues like Alzheimer’s disease through music.
#2. Improved 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.
Music can apply this focus 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 is useful 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 focal points that music can create is an emphasis 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. Enhanced Creativity
Ambient music helps to improve and increase personal creativity.
Ravi Mehta, Professor of Business Administration at the University of Illinois, notes that ambient noise at 70 decibels will enhance an individual’s performance on specific creative tasks.
Mehta also notes in the study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, that enhanced creativity through music increases the chances that a customer will purchase an innovative product.
It is vital to keep ambient music at the 70-decibel level. Researchers discovered that increasing the volume of the music would also increase personal distraction levels.
The conclusion is this: instead of working in a quiet room, try working in a room with music in the background.
The presence of music generates creative ideas by activating the parts of the brain that think in abstract ways.
#4. Improved IQ
Studies have revealed that children who regularly listened to music, or played musical instruments were able to develop a much higher verbal IQ than other children of the same age who did not have exposure to music.
In just 20 days of music exposure, through classroom instruction, Dr. Sylvain Moreno found that 90% of children exposed to music experienced physical changes in their brain that allowed for a rapid transfer of cognitive information.
In the study conducted by York University, children between the ages of 4-6 participated in a computer-based training program with animated projections and colorful cartoons.
One group was exposed to music during the program, while the other was not.
Each group received two 1-hour sessions in a classroom setting for over four weeks.
The children exposed to music tested higher on verbal IQ tests involving word recall, information analyzation, and language-based reasoning.
#5. Coping Mechanisms
Music shapes the way we perceive the world around us.
Have you ever heard a favorite song start with your streaming service, and the only thing you wanted to do was sing along and dance?
The music shifts the state of consciousness of an individual in numerous, positive ways. It can even cause powerful memories to come flooding back to you when you hear a specific tune.
Since 1992, numerous studies have shown that music makes time seem to have an increased speed when played in environments where waiting is required.
Grocery store checkout lines and waiting rooms both employ music because it changes a person’s judgment of time.
Music even creates a separate sensation of time based on its tempo and cadence.
Fast melodies make time seem to speed up, while slow rhythms make time seem to slow down.
When you write music, then it functions as a coping mechanism because there is an opportunity to express thoughts and feelings in a safe environment.
It can even affect how people experience experimental time, which is the time it takes to engage in states of tension and resolution.
If you play specific audio sounds, such as white noise or brainwave entrainment tracks, then music can help you to meditate profoundly or focus on a particular physical or mental attribute to improve.
#6. Pain Control
Music changes how we perceive physical stimuli when experiencing stressful situations.
It is powerful enough to control the intensity of pain being experienced when an injury occurs.
Music controls pain at all levels of suffering.
Even patients who are receiving end-of-life hospice care report feeling less pain when there is music playing in their environment.
Sara Harris, who is a Board-Certified Music Therapist for Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care, notes that when music plays, incredible moments happen.
“Music bridges a gap between their reality and our reality, and for families who may have not seen their loved ones speak or sing anything the past few years, it’s just absolutely priceless.”
Being involved in the creation of music is just as beneficial in controlling pain as listening to music.
In a total of 11 studies, evidence suggests that music composition offers a positive impact on physical comfort, energy, fatigue, and anxiety.
Patients with fibromyalgia experience less chronic pain after they start listening to their favorite music. The power of this positive influence is so impactful that it can help doctors to reduce medication doses for these individuals.
#7. Personality Development
Another interesting way in which music affects our brains is the fact that the musical choices we make work to shape our individual personalities.
Music helps each of us to define the person we one day become.
In a number of studies and tests examining music and youth development, the results all point to the fact that specific musical preferences do 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 music fans were found to be outgoing and very hardworking.
Reggae fans were found to be far more laid back and much more at ease with themselves and the world around them.
Based on our preferences for music, social preferences and stigmas develop between fans of different music genres.
This process further helps to shape how each person sees and interacts with the world around them.
#8. Improved Productivity
Another great way in which music can 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.
Studies have also found that listening to your favorite music will help stimulate adrenaline secretion, and other hormones, which will increase your mental focus, as well as physical energy levels too.
Let’s look at working out in the gym as an example. When we hear our favorite song, played at a high volume, our brains will recognize 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 create this benefit so that you have more energy and more strength, and can get more done as a result.
The same goes for housework.
#9. Visual Attention
Certain types of music improve a person’s visual attention levels.
In a small study involving 19 patients, the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan discovered that “pleasant” music could improve visual attention in patients with unilateral neglect.
After experiencing a stroke in the right hemisphere of the brain, participants in the study were given three music options: pleasant, unpleasant, and white noise within 7 days of their medical event.
The definitions of pleasant and unpleasant music were left to the individual participants to decide.
Positive moods were more common after listening to pleasant music when compared to the other two sound options.
At the same time, these patients all showed improvement in eye movement and task completion during the times when they listened to pleasant music.
#10. Hormone Balance
When we listen to sad music, the songs we dislike, or the melodies which bring back painful memories, stress hormones like cortisol are released by the body.
As the cortisol is released, higher levels of anxiety begin to appear.
If hormone levels become unbalanced to a great extent, then severe stress events may occur.
When we listen to music which we enjoy, then dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins are released.
This combination makes 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.
If you love to eat chocolate, your body responds in the same way as if you love to listen to Nirvana.
#11. Anxiety Elimination
Listening to your favorite songs can be just as beneficial as a 30-minute massage can be at relieving worry and anxiety.
This benefit 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 the massage and bring a playlist of your best songs to enjoy both relaxing experiences simultaneously.
This benefit is particularly useful for individuals who are facing a difficult medical diagnosis.
A late stage cancer diagnosis or the presence of a debilitating disease can create enormous levels of anxiety and stress on an individual.
By focusing on the music instead of the present problems, the anxiety decreases, while the quality of a person’s life improves.
#12. Motor Skill and Reasoning Improvement
When motions are paired with songs, it allows children to improve the coordination of their fine motor skills.
Did you make finger motions while singing the Itsy-Bitsy Spider while growing up?
Did you count all the monkeys that were jumping on the bed with your fingers?
These actions helped to practice control of the hand and fingers.
Dancing provides the same benefit.
Children who learn songs by dancing experience higher levels of arm and leg control.
It also teaches children how to define their own personal boundaries for comfort.
Learning how to play a musical instrument creates improvements in these skills as well.
#13. Social Benefits
Music is often used at social events, parties, weddings, and concerts.
It provides the foundation for social activities which help to bring people together and relate with one another.
By sharing the same interests and tastes in music, people immediately have things in common.
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, by talking about your tastes in music, your favorite bands or singers, you will discover there is something you have in common with the other person.
This benefit allows a conversation to progress forward.
You begin to get to know one another on a deeper level because of the common ground you found in music.
Choirs and singing groups are another great example of how music brings people together.
When singing as part of a group, and synchronizing with each other, feelings of affiliation within these groups will be increased, and individuals may feel closer to one another than before.
#14. Heart Disease Treatment
Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the entire world.
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 include 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 significantly reduced.
A nurse-led team at Massachusetts General Hospital discovered that heart patients listening to music for 30 minutes had slower heart rates, lower blood pressure levels, and less overall distress when compared to those who did not listen to any melodies.
At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, heart attack survivors who listened to calming music in a quiet environment for only 20 minutes had less anxiety about their health compared to those who rested in complete silence.
Patients at Abbot Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis were less anxious and experienced less pain after cardiac procedures compared to those who only rested quietly.
#15. Improved Emotional IQ
Another exciting benefit that music has on our brains is that it helps us to read other people effectively.
By listening to what is described as ‘happy’ and ‘uplifting’ music in regular intervals, people can 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.
This process creates more resiliency in the brain’s mechanisms to encode information for future reference. There are noticeable gains in language use, listening, and reading over time.
It acts as a protective factor for the brain as well. Urban youth have better school attendance, fewer disruptive behaviors, and they practice self-efficacy more often with music exposure.
These outcomes are possible because music helps us to identify and understand the emotions we experience in life. This information gives us more opportunities to manage how we feel.
It will also help us to be more empathetic with others who may be struggling with challenging emotions.
#16. Immune System Strength
The immune system is your body’s natural defense mechanism against illness and disease.
If your immune system is strong, then you have a lower risk of experiencing ill health.
There are numerous ways to support a robust immune system.
You might take vitamins or specific supplements. You choose to eat certain foods.
Are you listening to your favorite music regularly too?
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, along with support from Sussex University, discovered simultaneously that listening to uplifting music improves antibody levels within the body.
In the study, researchers tested 300 people. They asked participants to listen to either dance music or a random collection of tones.
The participants listening to dance music experienced lower levels of cortisol release compared to those hearing random tones.
After 50 minutes of listening to the dance music, participants had higher levels of Immunoglobin A compared to the other group, which is the first line of defense against illness or disease.
#17. Improved Trust
When you start listening to music, then the neurotransmitters in your brain begin to release more dopamine than usual.
Dopamine is the foundation of the rewards-based pleasure centers that the brain focuses on each day.
This chemical is responsible for how you feel when eating your favorite foods, getting some exercise, or having some intimate time with a significant other.
The songs you love to listen to will release dopamine too. If you put your playlist on shuffle, then the anticipation to hear the next song can enhance this process.
Learning how to play an instrument that you love can also release more of this chemical in your brain.
When you listen to music with other people, attend a concert, or play an instrument in front of others, then your brain will also release oxytocin.
Oxytocin is responsible for the social bonding process that occurs between two people.
When it is at a high level, then other people – even strangers – will have an intuitive feeling of trust when they are near you.
When you experience higher levels of oxytocin, then it can make you feel more generous as well.
Then you’ll receive a dose of dopamine when that generosity helps someone in need in some way.
This process creates even more oxytocin, which then starts this positive cycle over again.
#18. Autism Treatments
Children and adults who have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis can experience numerous positive benefits when listening to music.
Music therapy helps to stimulate the brain in this circumstance to reduce the self-stimulatory responses that can occur.
It will reduce negative responses almost immediately in many individuals.
This process makes it possible to increase social participation in ways that are deemed to be socially acceptable and appropriate.
Music can help people with autism communicate with others when they are unable or unwilling to communicate verbally or express themselves in other ways.
It helps to develop skills that encourage language processing, verbal communication, and speech.
Children can also benefit from having music play during the times when they take turns, share play time, listen, or respond to another person.
This benefit is possible because the music helps to identify, and then express, their emotions.
It offers concrete, multi-sensory stimulation simultaneously without being overwhelming so that the rhythms being experienced can help to organize the sensory systems.
#19. Brain Development Acceleration
When you start to learn how to play music, then the processes involved with this experience speed up the development of your auditory pathways.
The brain becomes more efficient because of the increased processing speed.
That makes it easier to retain more information in other subjects. It will also change the physical nature of the brain.
Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that men who regularly play music had larger brains than those who did not have an extensive background in music.
Some instruments, such as the piano, can help the brain to become more symmetrical.
When both hands are necessary to create music, then there is less dominance on the right or left side.
The creative centers of the brain receive time to develop when playing an instrument too.
Guitar players who make music together can synchronize their brains before and during their playing to enhance social cognition.
The areas of the brain responsible for conscious thought can deactivate while playing, allowing the sole focus of development to be in the regions where creative skills form.
Does Music Provide Disadvantages to the Brain?
A common question that people ask when looking at how music affects the brain is this: “What kind of music will work best for me?”
There isn’t one specific genre of music that everyone can hear to experience all of the benefits listed in this content.
The individualistic nature of music and its therapeutic benefits can cause one genre to be helpful to someone, but problematic for another person.
Some people find that listening to songs that they know can be a distraction because they want to sing along with the lyrics.
Although there may be some health benefits to that activity to consider, it may be challenging to stay productive if you are working on a specific task.
Music like EDM (electronic dance music) can be helpful when you must perform a mundane or repetitive task.
Some people don’t like the sounds from this genre, so it causes them more irritation instead of less when they work.
Researchers have even discovered that individuals who have had a successful heart surgery should not listen to genres like techno or heavy metal because of the physical impacts of those sounds.
Personal preferences play a significant role in the benefits that music can provide as well.
If you like the melodies that you hear, then you’re more likely to see positive outcomes.
When you listen to the music that you like, then there is an increase in blood that flows to the brain.
If you hear music that you don’t like, then this physical change does not occur.
This process causes more areas of the brain to activate as well, which is why a favorite style of music or a specific sound can improve your focus and productivity.
What Are the Best Ways to Use Music Every Day?
One of the most effective methods of using music on a daily basis is brainwave entrainment.
Programs designed around the science of brainwave entrainment help the brain to “tune” itself to specific results which you’d like to achieve.
Through the stimulation of music, the brain becomes receptive to the changes being encouraged by specifically-tuned audio frequencies.
The neurons within the brain begin firing in the same patterns as the music being played, while the brain works to move toward specific brainwaves based on the sounds being heard.
As you continue to listen, the brain syncs itself to the patterns, helping you become more efficient at the task or activity you wish to complete.
From a better focus to better sleep, brainwave entrainment offers numerous ways to make life better.
Music has always been part of the human experience. Without it, our lives would be very different.
When you listen to music, these are the key benefits you should expect to see in your life.
The next time you listen to your favorite music or you play an instrument, see if you can experience these benefits personally.
Music can help the brain in a variety of different ways.
Each person interacts with the rhythms and melodies of songs differently, so the possible outcomes are not always the same each time.
Try playing your favorite song today. Think about how it makes you feel.
Those moments are just a taste of the positive ways that music can influence the brain.
Scroll back up through this guide to see which benefit you will want to incorporate into your life today.