Have you ever heard of the Mozart Effect? It’s the observation that listening to classical music can improve performance on spatial reasoning tasks. This all started in a small experiment by Francis Rauscher, a psychologist, in 1993.
Since then, there have been a lot of back-and-forth discussions about whether listening to Mozart could improve brain development. Mommies started buying devices that help babies listen to music even before they are born.
Many experts, meanwhile, believe this theory doesn’t work. One thing is clear, however: some solid studies suggest that music can influence the brain.
- Music Helps Release Happy Hormones
Do you ever wonder why some types of music make you feel happy? Don’t worry; this is covered by science. Studies show that it helps release plenty of good hormones.
One, it increases the production of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurochemical linked to the brain’s pleasure center. It also affects motor control, movement, memory, and cognition.
Two, it releases endorphins from the brain, which ease pain and stress. The latter is so potent some experts dub it as the body’s “natural morphine.” Endorphin release can give you more energy and a positive attitude. This may even help explain why music can lower your stress levels.
Not many people are aware of the correlation between stress and pain. The latter seems to intensify when you’re, say, burned out. It could be partly due to the physical changes in your body when stressed: your muscles tense, especially those in the back, neck, head, face, and shoulders.
Music helps you relax, and combined with the natural increase of endorphins, you feel so much better after singing or playing an instrument.
- Music Changes the Structure of the Brain
For the longest time, people thought that the brain was just like the bones. At some point, it will stop growing or developing. Recently, however, experts have introduced us to the concept of neuroplasticity. It means the brain keeps growing and changing in response to experiences.
The brain can:
- Compensate for the changes brought by an injury or disease
- Reprogram itself after damage
- Reorganize itself when recovering from a stroke
- Instantly form new connections
Even better, you can train your brain to be flexible, adaptable, and resilient through music. For example, it helps you build new brain cells. Many studies also show that learning an instrument or taking voice lessons develop the brain’s cognitive function.
When you sing or play the piano, for instance, you activate different areas of the brain. These include the cerebellum, which is the biggest part of the brain, and the corpus callosum, which is responsible for the transfer of information between the brain’s right and left hemispheres. Music also stimulates the regions of the brain that control sensory and motor skills.
People who play musical instruments had more connection fibers (white matter) connecting these regions than non-musicians. This means they can process information faster, which enhances their learning ability. They also improve visual skills like eye-hand coordination and reading comprehension.
- Music Enhances Memory
Do you know that music can also manipulate people’s emotions? When you listen to songs that give you those “chills down your spine,” it activates many areas of your brain.
This includes the hippocampus, the region responsible for memory. It is no coincidence that studies show singing or playing an instrument can enhance long-term memory. For instance, children who have taken music lessons have better verbal memory. They also have stronger brain connections linked to pitch recognition and vocabulary fluency.
Another study showed that musicians are better at recalling lists of words set to music than those who don’t know how to play an instrument. And this benefit doesn’t have any age limit.
A 2013 research by Nina Kraus and Samira Anderson pointed out that seniors with no musical experience improved their memory and processing speed by taking piano lessons for 30 minutes each week for three months and practicing their newfound skills for three hours a week.
Music’s influence on memory might explain why it could help individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. According to NAMM Foundation, listening to songs could stir nostalgia, helping dementia patients remember at least significant events in their lives.
- It Has Anti-inflammatory Effects
Chronic inflammation is responsible for many diseases. It could lead to heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and diabetes- to name a few. It also affects the brain by promoting the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.
Bringing your chronic inflammation down means reducing your risk for these chronic diseases. But how? It turns out that music can help.
For one, a 2018 study revealed an association between locortisol levelsisol, a stress hormone, and listening to music. Most of all, playing an instrument or singing can lower stress.
Music is indeed a powerful thing. Among the many benefits of playing an instrument, improving your brain is one of the most noteworthy ones.