Music can promote development of certain areas of the brain. Listening to music, especially classical, can enhance one’s spatial-temporal reasoning. This is commonly called the Mozart Effect, though it is not limited to only Mozart’s music; other classical composers showed positive results as well, such as Bach, Chopin, and Yanni. Spatial-temporal reasoning is the ability to understand three-dimensional multi-step problems. In a study reported by J.S. Jenkins, adults listened to Mozart’s Sonata for 10 minutes, and they performed much better on spatial-temporal reasoning tests afterward, such as folding and cutting paper procedures. Music is processed in many different areas of the brain; some of these areas overlap with the areas for processing spatial-temporal reasoning, which might explain why they are connected in this way. While listening to music can improve some aspects of your brain, learning music quickens children’s brain development. A study done by the Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) at USC, 13 children ages 6-7 were given music lessons. Through MRI and EEG scans, their brain was compared to children who were not given musical instruction. Within two years of them starting the lessons, MRI scans showed that the musicians’ auditory systems was more advanced than the other children. This can support them in many aspects, including language, reading, and communication. Research reported by PBS Parents shows children musicians have increased IQ. Children musicians have increased test scores. Children musicians have stronger brains. An article from New Scientist explains musicians also have a stronger corpus callosum. This is the group of nerves that connect the two hemispheres of the brain. When playing music, musicians must have both of their hands in sync, involving both hemispheres of the brain. Music is also processed in both hemispheres of the brain; the left side processing pitch and rhythm and the right side processing timbre and melody. This could potentially make both hemispheres of the brain communicate more easily, allowing other tasks to become easier.
Music can also improve your mood. Psychology Today reports listening to music often releases dopamine into the brain. Dopamine is the chemical that makes one feel happy. Listening to songs on shuffle can increase dopamine distribution even more. When one knows the order of songs on a playlist, it can become boring and predictable for your brain, but if you put it on shuffle, it is unexpected every song. The surprise gives your brain more dopamine. Another chemical that can be released is oxytocin, a chemical that is associated with trust and bonding, both when singing and when listening to music. A study disclosed on Greater Good Magazine showed that after someone (professional or not) sang for 30 minutes, their oxytocin levels increased. Singing or making music with other people can create bonds with them and help you overcome differences. Oxytocin also increases when hospital patients listen to music after undergoing surgery. Even listening to a sad song when you are feeling depressed aids you in acknowledging and understanding your emotions.
Music therapy can decrease depression and anxiety. It can be difficult to put depressed feelings into words, so making music allows people with depression to express themselves; “Where words fail, music speaks.” Therese Borchard defines the two kinds of music therapy; active and passive. Active therapy is when the patient and therapist make music using different instruments. There is also passive therapy, in which one listens to music while drawing or meditating. After both, the therapist and patient reflect and explore the emotions the music conveyed. It can also physically calm someone with anxiety. The steady rhythms and melodies of music can slow heart rate and breathing and release tension.
But some may say that extreme music became a bad influence on some youth. Genres such as heavy metal, screamo, punk, or emo are believed by many to make youth more depressed, angry, or even violent. But a study made by the Australia’s University of Queensland shows otherwise. 39 fans of these genres stated some of their concerns with work, finances, or relationships then listened to the music of their choice for 10 minutes. Their heart rates were monitored during the experience. After listening, they were calmed, not more upset. Listening enabled them to explore their negative emotions and even “enhance positive emotions.” They felt “more active and inspired”. If this music helps them express and relax, why should we stop them?
Finally, music can aid those with neurological disorders including Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease. Advanced Alzheimer's patients, whom sometimes cannot respond to anything, can become excited by the music they listened to as a child as the documentary Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory reveals. Music brings back memories, many of the patients even singing along and remembering lyrics. Those with epilepsy also saw improvements listening to Mozart, J.S. Jenkins describes. Even while unconscious, the music reduced ictal patterns dramatically, in some patients, from 90-100% to 50% within 5 minutes of listening to Mozart’s music. Dr. Axe notes that Parkinson’s disease patients were positively impacted by musical therapy, too. After attending musical therapy for three months, once a week, the patients were evaluated using the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale, the Parkinson’s Disease Quality of Life Questionnaire, and the Happiness Measure. The results showed that the patients significantly improved their motor skills, emotional and daily functions, and quality of life.
Music shapes people; their brains, emotions, actions. With it, we can all improve ourselves. Next time you are having a rough day, try putting on headphones and singing along to your favorite song. It may feel silly at first, but you’ll soon begin to feel a smile on your face as the natural dopamine begins to enter your brain and the steady beat of the music relaxes your muscles. If you’re a musician, try some improvisation to activate your brain. As all of these studies, and maybe in your own life, have shown that music is beneficial to everyone.