As a lifelong musician, I think it’s just obvious to the rest of the world that music is vital and that we humans can’t live without it. In fact, there is not a known culture on Earth that lacks music in some form. We go about our days with the soundtrack of our lives going on everywhere around us. Maybe we exercise, soothe, dream, distract, or buy extra stuff at the grocery store to music without realizing its influence on us. 

Let’s take a brief look at the many things that music gives us:

Brain development:

  • Music instruction may create new neural pathways in the brain. A 5-year study at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC showed that “music instruction speeds up the maturation of the auditory pathway in the brain and increases its efficiency.”
  • The auditory systems of children who study music mature faster than in children who don’t. This means that language acquisition and learning to read is accelerated in these kids. (1)
  • Babies who participated in interactive music classes “smile more, communicate better, and show earlier and more sophisticated responses to music.” (2)

Memory/cognitive improvement:

  • With those affected by Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, memories related to music survive longer than others. Memory can be stimulated and supported through music. “That special song can unlock lost memories.” (3)
  • “Music lessons in childhood can do something perhaps more valuable for the brain than childhood gains: provide benefits for the long run, as we age, in the form of an added defense against memory loss, cognitive decline, and diminished ability to distinguish consonants and spoken words.” (4)
  • Passive listening to music “involves the engagement of numerous cognitive functions,” meaning that your brain is active and hard at work while listening to fabulous performances of Brahms and Mahler by the CMF orchestra. You’re getting a brain workout and an aesthetic experience all at once.

Emotional benefit: 

  • Music can actually make you happy. Listening to a few minutes of music that you love causes the brain to release dopamine (a chemical associated with pleasure or reward).
  • Music can reduce stress and anxiety. It has been known since the early days of music therapy that music influences our physiology. Certain kinds of music can slow pulse, lower blood pressure, and decrease levels of stress hormones.
  • Music affects mood. Way back in the Baroque era, The Doctrine of the Affections, an aesthetic theory of affect (music, as well as art, and theater) ascribed to the idea that music arouses specific involuntary emotions in the listener. Maybe your elementary music teacher told you that music in major keys is happy and music in minor keys is sad. (by the way, that’s just not accurate!) One sure way to test this theory is to listen to music (that you love, that induces memory, that connects you with someone special) and check your own emotional state.

Health benefit: 

  • Music is “heart healthy.” Research shows that blood flows more easily when listening to music. (5)
  • Music can help to ease pain. New studies show that music can decrease pain perception, reduce the need for pain meds, and ease chronic pain. (6)
  • Music supports exercise. It can be motivating, inspiring, and can set the tempo for a great run or workout.

A few suggestions about these topics:

  • This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, Daniel Levitin
  • Music Medicine: The Science and Spirit of Healing Yourself with Sound, Christine Stevens
  • The Power of Music: Pioneering Discoveries in the New Science of Song, Elena Mannes
  • Music, The Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imaginations, Robert Jourdain
  • The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit, Don Campbell

To experience music in a deeper way, perhaps consider taking lessons on a new instrument or attending a concert of music you’ve never experienced before. The benefits are enormous!

Sources

  1. USC Study
  2. David Gerry, Andrea Unrau, Laurel J. Trainor. Active music classes in infancy enhance musical, communicative and social development. Developmental Science, 2012; 15 (3): 398 DOI
  3. Music and Memory
  4. National Geographic
  5. 9 Health Benefits of Music
  6. Harvard Health

Kathy Kucsan, CMA Co-Founder