Music soothes the savage beast, they say. But can it calm a stressed-out mom or help someone get over an illness? Can it transport you into the realm of imagination? Can music make you focus better and rise to your peak in competition?
You probably know what the answer is already. Yes. Music can do this, and more.
How Does Music Affect the Brain?
Music stimulates various parts of the brain, making it an effective therapeutic or mood-altering tool. Music’s pitch, rhythm, meter and timbre are processed in various parts of the brain ranging from the prefrontal cortex to the hippocampus to the parietal lobe. Rhythm and pitch are primarily left brain hemisphere functions, while timbre and melody are processed primarily in the right hemisphere. Meter is processed in both hemispheres
What is interesting is that spatial-temporal tasks (2-D and 3-D manipulation of physical objects and spatial reasoning needed for building structures, etc.) are also located in the same areas of the brain that are stimulated by music. Listening to music stimulates the areas of the brain concerned with spatial reasoning – although studies have determined that this effect doesn’t last more than 15 minutes after the music has stopped. While the music is playing, however, study participants showed a marked increase in spatial reasoning.
You may have heard of stroke victims learning to talk again using music, or stutterers learning to speak fluently by learning to sing their sentences. It’s not clear yet exactly how this works. Anyone can experience the benefits of music on the brain; the type of music matters less than the listener’s personal preferences. Although certain types of music naturally lend themselves to particular applications, personal preference matters a lot. If you don’t like a particular type of music, it will actually have the opposite effect than its intended use!
The heightened mental arousal brought about by music can be used every day to enhance your life experience. Here’s how:
De-stressing and healing: Just the right soothing music decreases stress, including lowering the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Personal preference is important: obviously if smooth jazz makes you angry, it’s not the right music to listen to for relaxation! Soothing music is also beneficial in a healing situation – again, by decreasing stress, and also by elevating the patient’s mood.
Immune booster: Upbeat dance music boosts your immune system. This may be partially due to the hypnotic beat of the music that causes the brain to go into the alpha state where the brain begins releasing endorphins (a natural painkiller) and healing hormones. Stress reduction plays a big part here as well.
Enhanced exercise: You probably already know how music makes a boring workout seem much more fun. There’s a correlation between upbeat, fast paced music and the effectiveness of your exercise. It serves as a point of focus, taking your mind off your aches and burning muscles; and it motivates you. This may go back to the caveman days, when rhythmic drumbeats were used to put people into a trance, or to pump them up before a hunt or battle. Not much different than the beats we hear at a dance club… the heart also entrains to the beat of the music, making it easier to exercise to fast-paced music because the heart is already in sync with the tempo. Using dance music for exercise will not only make the workout fun, but will improve your immune response!
Meditation aid: rhythmic drumming and chanting have been used for many thousands of years to put people in a trance-like state of altered consciousness. Omharmonics meditation music (with its embedded binaural technology) helps to quickly create a tranquil meditative state.
Memory recall: Some studies have shown a substantial increase in memory recall while listening to classical music, especially Mozart. The famous “Mozart Effect” doesn’t actually promise increased intelligence, although studies have shown that children who are brought up learning musical instruments or singing are better at spatial-temporal reasoning.
Anti-anxiety: Music is very good at promoting self-soothing: have you ever hummed a tune to decrease anxiety or to remain calm under pressure? If you have a theme song you like to play before competition or some big event, you know exactly how helpful this is – and it can be anything you really like – anything to distract you from the stress of the moment and get you pumped up.
Anti-fatigue, anti-boredom: Music helps keep you energized and productive – but be careful here; blaring metal or fast dance music just to stay awake might not be something your co-workers appreciate. The best music for focus doesn’t have words or a complex melody, to avoid distraction.
Heightened spiritual experience: Music has been a part of religious and spiritual traditions since the dawn of mankind. It enhances the feeling of unity with a higher power/source energy, and many spiritual practices employ rhythmic chanting to create an altered state of consciousness.
Improved mood: Research has shown that music generally improves mood. If you’re slogging through a boring day at work, forcing yourself through a tough workout, trying to motivate yourself to mop the floor… music will help!
It’s a well-known “fact” (unsubstantiated) that your favorite music makes house cleaning go twice as fast because you tend to move along with the music and dance your way through your cleaning chores. And even if it doesn’t actually make time go faster, you’ll enjoy what you’re doing more. In the case of cleaning the house, that’s a great thing!
Music is the universal language. Humans are hard-wired to appreciate and need music – so find some music you enjoy, and let its good vibrations stimulate your brain in wonderful ways!