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How Does Music Affect Your Brain

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Healing Power Of Music

How Does Music Affect Your Brain? | Tech Effects | WIRED

These changes in brain circuitry and connectivity suggest opportunities to activate certain regions to promote healing, Silbersweig says. He and Haddad look forward to using cutting-edge brain research to build on whats already known about the therapeutic power of music for patients with dementia, depression, and other neurological conditions. The pair note, for instance, that playing a march or other rhythmic piece for people with Parkinsons disease stimulates the brain circuits that get them physically moving. Similarly, people with short-term memory loss from Alzheimers disease often recognize familiar songs like Happy Birthday because that memorys encoded into their brains long-term memory, Haddad notes.

Haddad witnessed this response during high school and college while performing for patients in hospitals and assisted living facilities. You have these patients who are essentially sedated, lying down, eyes closed, not able to communicate, she recalls. And when you play a song that they recognize from their youth, their eyes light up. Theyre sitting up, and theyre smiling. Its just incredible.

How Music Therapy Improves Quality Of Life

Anyone can play or listen to music for recreational purposes only and still reap some 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 numerous disorders including autism, dementia, Alzheimers, chronic pain, emotional trauma, anxiety, and depression.

Potential benefits of working with a music therapist include improved mood, concentration, and motivation, and decreased anxiety, anger, stress, and frustration.

You can get help finding a music therapist anywhere in the world in this directory published by the American Music Therapy Association.

The Amazing Way Music Therapy Helps Alzheimers Patients

One of the most remarkable successes of music therapy is the impact it has on the lives of Alzheimers patients.

Advanced Alzheimers patients lose their ability to have interactive conversations with others and eventually stop speaking completely.

But music therapy has been very successful at getting through to patients even when nothing else has.

When hearing familiar music, patients often visibly light up and sing along.

It seems that musical memories far outlast other kinds of memories.

Caretakers and family members report that, for many patients, music therapy is the best part of their day.

Music therapy does more than help dementia patients remember.

It helps alleviate depression, anxiety, and agitation while improving brain function and overall quality of life.

Music therapy has been found to exert measurable changes in neurotransmitter levels in Alzheimers patients, which may be one way it positively affects their brains.

Watch the Video

To learn more about how music therapy changes the lives of elderly people in serious mental decline, I recommend the documentary Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory.

You can stream it or .

And if you have a library or university card, you can watch it for free on Kanopy.

This movie chronicles the astonishing experiences of nursing home patients whose brains have been reawakened by listening to the music of their youth.

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Why Did Music Evolve In The First Place

Music is ancient and extends throughout all societies around the world, so it probably has links to the survival of our species.

As any football fan will tell you, communal singing can help form a more cohesive social group.

This bonding effect is a strong contender for why music exists in prehistoric times, groups who sang together would protect each other more tenaciously from predators or enemies.

Whats more, music has been found to aid the release of the hormone oxytocin.

This hormone is also released during breastfeeding and sexual intercourse, and may have a powerful bonding effect.

It Can Lower Reading Comprehension

3 Ways Music Improves Brain Function

Certain types of music, including fast music, loud music, and music with lyrics, can make it harder to understand and absorb reading material.

Whether youre looking at an evening of Victorian literature or some one-on-one time with your biology textbook, soft classical music with a slow tempo may be a better choice.

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How Music Helps Senior Brains

Just as its never too early to start benefiting from music, its also never too late.

Seniors who play an instrument, sing, or dance derive physical, psychological, and social benefits from music.

Music protects against memory problems and cognitive decline even more than other leisure activities.

Seniors with musical backgrounds score higher on cognitive tests and show greater mental flexibility than their non-musical counterparts.

Listening to music has been shown to significantly improve working memory in older adults.

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How Music Affects The Brain

Last updated July 17, 2021.Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC. Written by Deane Alban.

Music improves brain health and function in many ways. It makes you smarter, happier, and more productive at any age. Listening is good, playing is better.

Music has played an important part in every human culture, both past and present.

People around the world respond to music in a universal way.

And now, advances in neuroscience enable researchers to measure just how music affects the brain.

The interest in the effects of music on the brain has produced a new field of research called neuromusicology which explores how the nervous system reacts to music.

Musicians have superior working memory, auditory skills, and mental flexibility.

Their brains are physically more symmetrical and 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.


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This is enough time for music to have an effect on the brains of non-musicians as well.

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How Music Acts As A Natural Panacea

It seems that music can heal whatever is ailing you, be it a mental health disorder or neurological disease.

Music can alleviate the symptoms of many mood and mental disorders including:

Music shows promise in treating stroke, autism spectrum disorder, and Alzheimers.

Music can also help with the psychological aspects of illness and can improve the quality of life in patients with cancer, dementia, Parkinsons, and chronic pain.

Listening to music reduces the stress experienced by patients both before and after surgery.

It can and delirium that affects some elderly patients while theyre recovering from surgery.

How Music Makes You More Productive And Creative

How Music Affects Your Brain

Theres abundant evidence that listening to music while you work can make you happier and more productive.

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 sound environment.

Background music enhances performance on cognitive tasks, improves accuracy, and enables the completion of repetitive tasks more efficiently.

” When children had as little as four years of music lessons, they experienced long-term cognitive benefits that researchers could detect 40 years later.

The effects of music on productivity have been studied in some very specific occupations.

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 its 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.

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It Could Help You Memorize New Information

According to a , listening to classical music seemed to help older adults perform better on memory and processing tasks.

These findings suggest certain types of music can help boost memorization abilities and other cognitive functions.

Music helps stimulate your brain, similar to the way exercise helps stimulate your body.

The more you exercise your muscles, the stronger they become, right? Giving your brain a cognitive workout could help strengthen it in a similar fashion.

Not everyone finds music helpful for tasks that require concentration.

Wheres The Most Unlikely Place That Music Is Used

Forget popping a paracetamol music has also found an unlikely use as a form of pain relief. One of the experiments that researchers use to test peoples responses to pain involves asking subjects to keep their hands in freezing cold water for as long as possible.

Psychologists Laura Mitchell and Raymond MacDonald have found that listening to music helps people to stand the pain for longer and is particularly effective if the subjects choose the music themselves.

Read more about the effect of music:

This choice gave the participants a feeling of empowerment, which helped them to cope with discomfort for longer. The concept of pain reduction through empowerment has also been shown to reduce discomfort during dental treatment.

The patients felt less pain if they chose the music especially if they were given a handheld volume controller. Intriguingly, the best results happened when the patient was specifically told that their control over the music would reduce the pain.

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Brain Areas: Working In Concert

We may not realize it when listening to a favorite tune, but music activates many different parts of the brain, according to Harvard Medical School neurologist and psychiatrist David Silbersweig, MD. These include:

  • The temporal lobe, including specific temporal gyri that help process tone and pitch.
  • The cerebellum, which helps process and regulate rhythm, timing, and physical movement.
  • The amygdala and hippocampus, which play a role in emotions and memories.
  • Various parts of the brains reward system.

All of these areas, Silbersweig noted in a 2018 paper, must work in concert to integrate the various layers of sound across space and time for us to perceive a series of sounds as a musical composition.

Debra Bradley Ruder is a freelance medical writer based in Greater Boston.

The Benefits Of Music For Young Brains

How music affects the brain

In the 1990s, the effect of music on the brain was popularized as the Mozart effect.

This theory purported that listening to music composed by Mozart made kids smarter.


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The accepted theory now is that, while taking music lessons as a child enhances brain function and structure, theres nothing uniquely beneficial about the music of Mozart.

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 brains capacity to change and grow.

Just a half-hour music lesson increases blood flow in the left hemisphere of the brain.

And if kids dont stick with their music lessons forever, thats OK.

Theres evidence that when music training begins young, the brain enhancement that takes place can last a lifetime.

When children had as little as four years of music lessons, they experienced long-term cognitive benefits that researchers could detect 40 years later.

Kids who sing together in a choir report higher satisfaction in all their classes, not just music.

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Musical Ability And Psychiatric Disorder

There is an extensive literature attesting to some associations between creativity and psychopathology . The links seem to vary with different kinds of high achievement, and mood disorders are over-represented. Although samples of creative people have a significant excess of cyclothymia and bipolarity, florid manicdepressive illness is relatively uncommon. Biographies of famous musicians are of considerable interest in exploring brainbehaviour associations. Attempts to transform descriptions of people from biographies into specific DSM diagnoses cannot achieve high levels of validity and reliability, since lack of autobiographical materials and reliable contemporary medical accounts makes any diagnostic formulation necessarily tentative. However, with regard to classical composers within the Western canon, it must be of considerable significance that there are so many who seem to have suffered from affective disorders, the incidence of mood disorders ranging between 35% and 40% . It is possible that similar associations occur in non-Western composers, although studies have not been published. In contrast, none seems to have had schizophrenia. These results have importance in understanding the structure and function of the human brain, and suggest avenues for therapeutic investigation which will vary with diagnosis.

How About Listening To Music While Working

The possible link between music and concentration has been the subject of much research its of interest to everyone from call centre managers to students trying to finish an essay.

These investigations have shown that music can help if the alternative sound is a distracting noise. If youre trying to finish that report in a busy cafe, then music through headphones will help keep you focused.

If, on the other hand, youre working in a quiet environment, the music itself will be a distraction.

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Music Playlists To Boost Mood Focus Energy Relaxation


If you want to listen to music specifically to improve your mood, learning or concentration, the music streaming service Spotify is a good place to start.

Spotify has millions of songs, including a good catalog of brain-enhancing music.

Once you create a free account, use the search function to access the list of music genres.

There youll find playlists created specifically to improve mood and enhance focus.

Browse the Mood genre and youll find playlists for increasing happiness and confidence.

Other playlists are designed to energize you or calm you down.

If you are looking for music to help you relax or sleep, heres a curated playlist of the most relaxing songs on Spotify.

It includes Marconi Unions Weightless which has gotten press as being the most relaxing song in the world.

Its creation was a collaboration between musicians and a team of sound therapists.

Listening to Weightless resulted in an impressive 65% reduction in anxiety by reducing heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Another music service, , offers scientifically engineered music channels for enhancing focus based on personality type.

These playlists work, in part, by altering brainwave activity to boost focus and attention.

Can Music Make Us More Intelligent

How music affects your brain

Back in 1993, US psychologist Dr Frances Rauscher and her colleagues published a paper which gave birth to the so-called Mozart effect. In this study, students were given a spatial reasoning IQ test, before which they had either sat in silence for 10 minutes, listened to relaxation instructions, or heard a Mozart piano piece.

The researchers found that those who tuned in to the piano piece had noticeably higher scores than the other two groups.

The implication that listening to Mozarts music makes you more intelligent was widely covered in the press, and soon the music industry was generating Mozart CDs aimed at improving the IQs of everyone from babies to pensioners.

Psychologists set to work investigating whether the Mozart effect really exists, and by 2010 it was concluded that it did but it had nothing to do with Mozart.

Various psychologists, including Prof E Glenn Schellenberg and his team at the University of Toronto, have proved that your score in an IQ test can be improved simply by listening to any stimulating music you enjoy .

A similar result could even be achieved by listening to a Stephen King short story. The effect works by raising the level of a neurotransmitter in your brain called norepinephrine, which increases alertness.

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Music Affects Each Brain Differently

One of the common questions from people who want to use music to better themselves is: 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 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.

Patients who have had heart surgery should not listen to heavy metal music or techno sounds.

Doing so can be stressful and even cause life-threatening arrhythmias.

Second, youll always get more benefits from listening to music you actually like.

One persons music can be another persons noise, as any parent of a teenager can attest.

Neuroscientists can now see that music affects each persons brain differently.

By using functional magnetic resonance imaging , researchers have found that listening to music you like increases blood flow to the brain and brain connectivity more than listening to music you dont 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.

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