Music is an intrinsic part of our life experience. Whether or not we notice it all the time, music is everywhere we look if we look closely enough. Whether we’re out shopping, watching TV or seeing a live event, music is circling around us. In a passive sense, it just becomes part of the noise of the world we live in. We’re desensitized to passing pop songs playing on car radios, in coffee shops or at the grocery store. But studies have shown that music has a profound effect on the brain when we actively engage with it, whether it’s for pleasure or for the purpose of achieving some of the positive benefits associated with listening to music. And with so many musicians learning how to upload music to spotify, there are tons of amazing artists to access right at the tips of our fingers. Actively listening to music can help our mental and physical health in a variety of ways, and in this article we’ll touch on five ways that music can keep our brain healthy and active.
Music Activates the Entire Brain
Of course, when we listen to music, it activates the part of our brain that deals directly with sound and communication. This area of the brain is called the auditory cortex, and it’s just the beginning of what music can do to the brain. It’s been found by countless medical journals and universities, including Harvard Medical and the National Library of Medicine, that music activates large neural networks in the brain and even activates our motor cortex which explains our innate ability to mimic and compose our own rhythms. These effects are not limited to listening to music, and are found when individuals are playing and composing music as well.
Strengthens Neural Networks
Our brain is just like any muscle and needs to be exercised. Just as patients who are bedridden for long periods of time can experience muscle dystrophy, the brain too can lose functionality if not used. Music is a way that you can activate those neural networks and bolster the connections your brain can make. The more you activate the pathways in your brain, the more that your brain will use those pathways on a regular basis, even if you’re not listening to music. According to Harvard’s Health Blog article by Andrew E. Budson entitled “Why is Music Good for the Brain,” the brain shuts down different neural pathways if they haven’t been utilized for a long period of time. This is why it seems that the older we get, the harder it is to learn new skills. The brain is likely using that pathway for another purpose.
Music has also been proven to boost our mood and activate our motor cortex, which can motivate us to move our bodies. Because the brain activates a large amount of the brain, it also lights up the amygdala, which deals with mood and emotions. In tandem, it helps the brain release dopamine which can increase our mood rapidly. This is why when your favorite song comes on, it usually puts you in a better, more energized mood. This can help us understand the motivation to listen to music in the car before work, why music is used to pump people up at sporting events, and why live music is such a thrilling form of entertainment to so many people. It just makes us happy!
Music as Therapy
In a broader sense, music can be used to target certain conditions that damage the parts of the brain that deal with music. Diseases such as parkinsons deteriorate motor and language skills, but therapists have found that music, dance and singing are helpful activities to strengthen the link between listening and moving, or speaking. According to the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, music therapies in Parkinson’s patients can increase social behavior, improve cognitive function and have positive benefits on a patient’s mood. Similarly, dance therapies can help motor function and better balance while singing therapies can improve functionality in speech and communication.
These are just a few of the ways that music can impact the cognitive function of the brain. It can also help with memory, and for this reason is used by educators to teach complicated subjects such as math or science to young children. Ultimately, music helps our brain keep its neural pathways exercised, open and ready to make new connections. It’s not the only way to help your brain function, but it can feel empowering knowing something that brings us so much joy and pleasure is indeed good for our mind and body. So as part of your self care routine, make sure you dance to your favorite album at least once a week, and more if you can!