“If you play someone’s favorite music, different parts of the brain light up,” says neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya. He, along with violinist Ayako Yonetani, has been investigating how they relate to each other and how music affects brain function and human behaviour. In doing so, he mentions effects such as reducing stress, pain and symptoms of depression, improving cognitive and motor skills, spatio-temporal learning and neurogenesis.
It’s remarkable to see how the brain responds to music. Or rather, how its different parts can cope with music. The temporal lobe, for example, is responsible for processing what we hear. “We use the language center to appreciate music, which spans both sides of the brain, though language and words are interpreted in the left hemisphere while music and sounds are inerpreted in the right hemisphere,” Ayako Yonetani describes on the University of Central Florida website. The part of the brain called Broca’s area (which allows us to produce speech) is used to express music, while Wernicke’s area (which understands written and spoken language) is used to analyse and listen to music. It also depends whether you are a professional musician or a layman. In fact, Sugaya explains that professional musicians use the occipital cortex (visual cortex) when listening to music, while lay people use the aforementioned temporal lobe (auditory and language centre). This, according to him, shows that musicians can visualise musical notation when listening to music.
Other areas affected include the amygdala, which processes and triggers emotions. As Yonetani mentions in the context of its activation, “music can control your fear, make you ready to fight and increase pleasure.” The hippocampus, something of a computational unit of the brain, also remains in play. There, Yonetani says, music can increase neurogenesis, which mediates the production of new neurons and improves memory. The putamen then keeps us in rhythm. It takes care of the processing in our body and at the same time regulates the movement and coordination of the body. Music affects it in a way that raises dopamine levels and our response to rhythm.
“An Alzheimer’s patient, even if he doesn’t recognize his wife, could still play the piano if he learned it when he was young because playing has become a muscle memory. Those memories in the cerebellum never fade out,” Sugaya explains. Yes, so does the cerebellum. Even the cerebellum, which coordinates movement and stores physical memory, is related to music. Finally, we’ll take the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s center for feelings of pleasure, bliss, joy, reward, euphoria. Music in it increases the level of dopamine (a chemical known as the happiness hormone or the vice hormone) – similar to cocaine. It therefore acts on the same part of the brain as illegal drugs. So when you think you’re addicted to music, it might be true. 🙂
A beautiful graphic for each part of the brain can be found here: https://www.ucf.edu/pegasus/your-brain-on-music/
What kind of music should you listen to?
The music you like. Forget the famous Mozart effect, the greater effects are shown in the tones and rhythms you like. What helps someone else may “harm” you. You don’t relax, you don’t concentrate, you don’t motivate, etc. You can also focus on music you know from childhood. Such pieces can, among other things, bring you back to happy moments in the past, when you met your sweetheart, had a fantastic mood on holiday or other pleasant memories come to mind. In any case, pay attention to your feelings and the reactions that the music evokes in you.
So what can music do to us?
- Higher mind potential
A song will play and neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin will be released in your mind, allowing for proper brain functioning and better mental health. Listening to music or creating music helps develop innovative skills and creative potential. Just think of how many “calculations” your mind has to do to make all the notes connect adequately and make the music make sense to you. So listen, create and practice.
- Good for your soul
Some studies show that music “mixed” with the sounds of nature helps us get rid of anxious feelings. A relaxing, low-tempo background music in turn helps the nervous system recover faster after stressful events and activities. If you play a musical instrument, sing or perform, according to research, this supports your emotional awareness, interpersonal relationships and social connections. And by doing so, you reduce the likelihood of falling into depression. Music, in short, is a good “pill”.ou reduce the likelihood of falling into depression. Music, in short, is a good “pill”.
- Mood to the max
When you’re gloomy and not feeling well, what do you do? Apart from a bucket of ice cream, you might hit the play button. Why? Because music can lift your mood, as we already know. It affects the part of the brain responsible for emotion and memory, transforming our mood and helping us process our current feelings. So, upbeat music, play!
- Remembering the memory
Music, it’s “math”, structure, harmony. We mentioned above that it gives the mind a hard time to connect it into a meaningful whole. It serves for communication and learning, it exercises our memory. It encourages us to remember things and moments better and longer.
Find a cosy spot and let the music do the work. Maybe in our quiet cabin it plays beautifully. 🙂