Music is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Perhaps this is why it has been around in some form since humans began roaming the earth. The power of music is remarkable. The simplest strum of a guitar can bring a smile to our faces. However, this power goes beyond the feel-good effects. Research has found that music may have significant effects on our brain function.
Have you ever felt a shift in mood when listening to your favorite song? Or perhaps your focus improves drastically when you put on some classical music in the background? This is no coincidence.
Throughout this article, we are exploring the many ways in which music can help our brains. When we discuss music, this means both performing it on the guitar or another instrument as well as simply listening to it.
In many ways, music is magic so let’s explore it.
- Music improves vital brain functions
- Music helps your overall physical and mental health
- Brings you closer to people
- The Evidence is Clear
Music improves vital brain functions
Have you ever heard some of the greatest musicians of all time be referred to as geniuses? From Mozart to Duke Ellington to Pink Floyd, there is an undeniable brilliance in each. Music has a strong correlation with brain development. Why do you think there are so many music classes for babies? Playing an instrument is extremely good for the brain, let’s examine this further.
1. Improves the memory
The 2014 documentary, Alive Inside, focuses on social worker, Dan Cohen’s mission to document the effects of music on the lives of patients suffering from dementia. The results are shocking. People who have almost lost all connection with life and emotion listen to the music on playlists Cohen has curated based on advice from the family members. The patients fill with life once again while listening to the songs they once loved.
These effects are not surprising considering 2 recent studies conducted in the US and Japan which concluded that both listening to music as well as playing it yourself invigorates the memory. Memory, reasoning, emotion, speech, and reward are all associated with the areas of the brain music appears to touch. Not only does music help us recall memories made but it also seems to promote the formation of new ones.
Have you ever listened to a song you hadn’t heard in ages and suddenly certain memories come flooding back to you? This phenomenon is no coincidence. Music both triggers memories and lays a foundation to create them. During our lives and especially as we age, the sharper we can keep our mind and memory, the better our cognitive function will be.
2. Exercises multiple areas within the brain
Art has been used by some of the greatest minds of all time to keep the brain sharp. For example, consider Winston Churchill who, in addition to being a brilliant leader and his myriad of other accomplishments, was a dedicated painter. He painted over 500 beautiful works throughout his lifetime, and no one could argue he was a man with lots of extra free time on his hands! Churchill had a fantastic mind and had a very long life especially considering the era in which he lived.
Art exercises many parts of the brain that other activities do not. By stimulating various areas within the brain, we can keep ourselves sharp as Churchill managed to.
The good news is that the type of music you listen to doesn’t necessarily seem to contribute to the benefits for your brain. Though people once felt classical music made people smarter, a phenomenon commonly called the “Mozart” effect. It seems your brain responds best to music you enjoy and have enjoyed in the past.
So whether it’s classical, jazz, hip hop, R;B, pop, or rock, if you like it, it will likely help maintain your brain’s sharpness.
3. Flexes skill-building muscles
Skill-building can be very challenging. Learning a new skill requires focus and commitment. No one learns something new well without putting in the work. That’s why so many people have countless abandoned hobbies: it’s not easy so people tend to give up after a while.
Learning to play a musical instrument has its ups and downs. The beginning is always tiring, and people often get discouraged. However, the more you stick with it, the better you will get, and ultimately, the more you start to enjoy it. All the while, you’re flexing your skill-building muscles.
As you grow more confident in your ability to learn something new, you will find taking up other hobbies and trying new things becomes easier. And because you have crossed that initial threshold of doubt, you will continue to do so with other skills. The stronger your skill-building ability becomes, the more challenges you will take on.
4. Music is strongly connected to math skills
Did you know that performing music has a strong correlation with mathematic ability? This is no surprise if we truly consider the properties of music which can be boiled down to numbers. Notes, rhythm, and scales all require some degree of mathematical understanding.
Performing music uses the same parts of the brain used to do mathematical computations. Perhaps you are a keen numbers person. Then playing the piano or guitar could improve your performance in class or at work.
On the other hand, if you don’t enjoy math or do not use it in your daily life, playing an instrument could still help to reinforce those areas of your brain which will help your overall cognitive function.
Music helps your overall physical and mental health
Research is increasingly interested in the correlation between overall wellbeing and music. Many studies document the various ways in which both our physical and mental health are positively impacted by music.
The therapeutic nature of music
Have you ever heard of music therapy? It’s a growing concept because of its impressive effects. Music therapy is often used in hospitals to help people dealing with illness and hardship. It could entail a musician playing songs for people to listen to or even sing along with. Let’s explore why music is being used as therapy and what that could mean for you.
5. Mood changing effects
Music is unequivocally a stress reliever. According to a study conducted at Stanford University, rhythmic music affects our brainwaves which changes our conscious experience. The study details the effects of music with a high beats per minute (BPM) count or a strong beat which research shows to cause the brainwaves to sync with the rhythm. This can make one’s mind more alert and focused.
On the other hand, slow beats have the same effect but move in the opposite direction. When a listener hears slow, calming music, their brain enters a state similar to that of hypnosis or meditation.
When we’re in the thick of negative emotions such as anxiety, stress, and depression, it can feel never-ending. Music is being used as therapy all over the world to help change brain chemistry and activity which can aid in alleviating the symptoms of these emotions.
6. Can bring about catharsis
There are some days when the best thing to do is simply to cry. Or to yell. Or to punch your pillow a few times. This is called catharsis and it can help with our overall mood immensely. In short, catharsis is an emotional release. If you’re experiencing anxiety, stress, or sadness, music can help bring about this emotional release.
Have you ever put on an Adele song loud in your earphones and had to fight to hold back the tears? It happens to the best of us. Music is filled with emotion and thus, can help bring it out in us. Sometimes, the best healing mechanism is to lean into our feelings with the right type of music and let it all out.
7. Provides an opportunity to practice problem-solving
Learning how to play an instrument isn’t easy. It takes dedication and perseverance. At times, this can mean finding solutions to problems. Maybe you’re struggling with getting the chord shapes quickly enough to play the song you want to on the guitar. Or perhaps, the strumming pattern is complicated, and you can’t quite get it right. Thus, you must problem solve and practice until you achieve what you want to.
Problem-solving skills are life skills. Life won’t be easy just as learning to play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix won’t be. The more you become accustomed to finding solutions and managing problems when making music, the less stressful you will find it when you have to in other areas.
8. Can improve sleep
Sleep can be complicated. With such busy lives, many of us have a difficult time letting go of our days which is necessary to fall asleep at the end of them. It’s very common for life’s pressures to descend upon us as we turn off the light. Thoughts of your work, your bills, your family, friends, all the various tasks you must do enter your mind and cause anxieties, worries, and stresses that make falling asleep nearly impossible.
So how can music help?
Well, in terms of playing an instrument, it acts as a distraction. One excellent way to take the mind off the stresses of life is to focus on something else that uses the brain such as playing the guitar, piano, drums, singing, or any other form of music.
In terms of listening to music, a recent study shows that listening to classical music before bed can improve sleep. A control group of students with sleep issues, such as insomnia, were told to listen to classical music for 45 minutes before bed for 3 weeks. This group’s sleep improved while the other groups did not and interestingly enough, this group’s depression levels also decreased.
Thus, listening to music can be an effective method of improving sleep and ultimately, mental health.
As sleep contributes to a healthy mind and body, we must find ways to get enough of it. The sleep problem is cyclical. The more stressed out you are, the worse and less you tend to sleep which makes it harder to deal with worry and anxiety and the cycle continues. As soon as you can distract yourself and give your brain a rest from these negative feelings, you can break this cycle which will make it easier to get the z’s we all need.
9. Gets you off your screens
Studies show Americans spend around 5.4 hours on their mobile phones per day. That’s nearly half of our waking hours! If you work on a computer for your day job, add 8-9 more hours of screen time to that equation. It’s now proven that the amount of time we dedicate to our screens is negatively affecting our mental health. So, what if instead of picking up that phone to scroll through social media for hours, or turning on Netflix to a show you’ve already seen, you picked up your guitar?
Playing music will increase your serotonin levels and make you feel far more accomplished than scrolling on your phone will. Plus, creative outlets are highly recommended for our mental health, and playing guitar or any other instrument is surely a great way to spend your free time.
10. Gets you moving your body
If you’re a music lover, music tends to make everything better. This is especially true when it comes to exercise. A great pump-up song can be the difference between getting out of bed to go for a run and not. And as physical activity boosts our mood levels, it’s great for our wellbeing.
If you’re not a runner and even a great playlist won’t do it for you then there are ample other activities music can help to make more enjoyable. Maybe it’s a Zumba class or Hip-Hop Abs or simply putting on your favorite album and dancing your heart out around your room. Moving your body will get your blood flowing, increase those endorphins, and lift your mood.
Music can also elevate your workout overall. Think about lifting weights. If you do it in silence, you may be less inclined to push yourself out of your comfort zone. If you do it with a high BPM track playing, you could hit your personal best without even realizing it! Music could be the key to your best fitness level yet.
And how does exercise contribute to our brain health? Studies show that people who exercise repeatedly exhibit stronger performance in the areas of the brain that impact our thinking and memory. Regular exercise lights up numerous parts of the brain and helps to relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other cognitive disorders which tend to impact the clarity of our minds.
Brings you closer to people
Music undeniably brings people together. Maybe it’s a concert for an audience of 10 or a music festival for 10,000, it brings individuals together to share art.
People bond over shared interests. Have you ever brought up a certain artist to a friend and witnessed the joy come over them? People who appreciate music appreciate other people who do as well.
Not much compares to sitting around a campfire with your friends, singing along to your favorite songs. If you don’t have a campfire, anywhere else works too. Music brings people together and is incredibly bonding.
If you’re lucky enough to have friends who play other instruments, you can get together and jam. The benefits of music experimentation are endless. It’s creative, bonding, and rewarding. You can begin with something as simple as a metronome to keep time and one by one you each add a little section.
You don’t have to be skilled musicians to enjoy yourself, just grab your friends and get jamming.
12. Gathering with others
Gathering with others could mean a dinner party, a tea party, a wedding, or any other get-together you can imagine! Music brings out the best in people and creates a relaxed atmosphere. A dinner party without music runs the risk of awkward silences and the sound of cutlery scraping on plates. Add some jazz to the background and the silences are no longer awkward and the mood is more relaxed and pleasant.
Consider a wedding. Think about the power of that first dance. Everyone remembers that moment and the song that was playing for it. Music makes certain moments magical.
And we mustn’t forget the beloved karaoke night with friends. Karaoke brings out the good singers, the bad singers, and the very bad singers, and who doesn’t love that? People jumping up and down, belting out “I Will Survive”, it’s a recipe for fun and bonding which are great for the brain and our well-being.
The Evidence is Clear
It is clear that music has ample benefits beyond the simple enjoyment we all get from listening to it and playing it. Countless studies prove the ways in which music can positively impact our brains and ultimately, our lives. So, whether it’s picking up your guitar or playing some mellow jazz before bed, why not experience these life-bettering effects for yourself?