23 Beautiful Ways Music Affects And Benefits Our Brain
Music plays an enormous role in our lives, but did you know that it also affects our brains in many ways? Science is still learning about all the ways that music affects us, from brain development to memory retention and even IQ.
How does music affect the brain? We’ve compiled the top ways that science has shown music affects our brains, both in our daily lives and over the long term.
- Improving memory
- Fine-tuning motor skills
- Improving memory retention
- Helping with recovery after stroke, brain injury, or Alzheimer’s
- Easing pain and improving sleep
- Slowing mental decline in later years
- Aiding with language and cognitive development
- Improving test scores
- Making people more generous and empathetic and less prejudiced
1. Music Improves Memory
Specific research has shown that learning to play a musical instrument can vastly improve your memory. Music can make you better at learning and retaining information by activating the same parts of the brain that control literacy and other skills. It’s not surprising, considering that learning music involves a lot of memorization!
Music also stimulates the centers of the brain that deal with concentration, organization, and information retention. These play essential roles in categorizing memories, making music a critical tool for studying, working, and stimulating your brain. Researchers encourage students to listen to music while they cram for tests.
2. Music Reduces Anxiety
Many studies have shown that music can reduce anxiety and stress, both at the moment and long term. It does this in several ways, first by encouraging dopamine production. It also reduces stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rise during times of stress or anxiety.
Stress is often related to sleeplessness, and music also tackles this symptom! Some studies suggest that music can help you fall and stay asleep (though it depends on the type of music — heavy metal won’t do it!).
3. Music May Make You Smarter
So let’s get a bit more specific with this one — listening to music won’t necessarily improve your IQ, nor will it help kids get better grades. However, several studies have shown that listening to music can help with verbal and spatial-temporal reasoning. Music is also connected to emotional intelligence and clarity.
A significant difference happens with musical training. Learning to play an instrument helps develop a lot of essential skills, which might boost your IQ. Scientists are still learning the exact specifics of how this works, but there are many theories.
4. Music Can Improve Physical Activity
If you think that your workout is better when you have your Spotify playlist at hand, you’re not wrong. Music has been shown to make physical activity more effective! It does this by providing a distraction from pain and fatigue while increasing good hormones and decreasing stress hormones.
The result is that people have better endurance, a happier mood, and even a more efficient metabolism. There have been various studies about what type of music is the most effective for a good workout, including classical music or songs that are upbeat and energetic.
5. Music Can Relieve Pain
We’ve talked about how music can relieve emotional or mental pain. But perhaps even more amazingly, it can bring relief from physical pain as well.
It does this first by distracting from the pain, much as it does during physical exercise. It also stimulates the release of happy, peaceful chemicals, which mute pain. By helping the brain release endorphins, music decreases stress levels and increases feelings of calm and happiness, which can help someone in distress.
Scientists are still exploring the ways that music therapy can help people with chronic pain.
6. Music Can Aid With Hormonal Imbalances
Music — especially certain types of music — can even help hormonal imbalances. One study indicated that music (specifically for this research, “Love Me Tender” by Elvis) improved hormone levels in people with certain genetic disorders such as Williams Syndrome.
The study also concluded that it could help correct other hormonal imbalances, like those associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Though music alone isn’t a perfect “cure” for any of these diagnoses, researchers continue to investigate how music therapy could play an important role in treating them.
7. Music Can Help People With Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a problematic and frightening disease. But ongoing research has shown that music — especially music that a person recognizes from when they were younger — can help in many ways.
Music provides comfort and familiarity for those with Alzheimer’s. It has been shown to reduce distress and agitation. The reason for this is that Alzheimer’s doesn’t significantly damage the centers of the brain that respond to music.
Music therapy is a wonderful option for those with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.
8. Music Can Stimulate Your Mental Acuity as You Age
Some research has shown that music can keep your brain young in certain ways as you age. This is especially true if you listen to music outside your comfort zone or usual wheelhouse. Listening to contemporary music can stimulate your mind in new ways.
Listening to music also helps boost your memory and mental agility. This may help fight off the development of certain diseases such as dementia. This is thanks to the unique way that music stimulates the brain.
9. Music Can Help With Stroke Recovery
After a stroke, people may have difficulty learning to do basic tasks once again, including walk, speak, and use their hands. Strokes can also cause memory loss. But amazingly, music therapy is now an important part of stroke recovery.
After a stroke, synapses in the brain are damaged. Music helps repair these by stimulating them in a way other therapies can’t. Meanwhile, it also increases blood flow to the brain, another critical aspect of stroke recovery.
10. Music Can Improve Your Fine Motor Skills
Learning to play a musical instrument such as the piano or the violin can significantly improve children’s fine motor skills. This can make a difference in as little as two years, making even basic instruction an aid for those who need help with motor function.
This can be particularly helpful for children who are in the early stages of brain development. It can set the stage for other types of brain development later in life.
11. Music Therapy Can Help People During End-Of-Life Care
Music therapy has been becoming an important part of hospice care, especially for people who are losing their mental and physical faculties. We’ve already mentioned that music can relieve stress and pain, which is vital for patients in hospice care.
Because of music’s calming and centering effects, it has been shown to reduce anxiety, pain, and distress among people undergoing end-of-life care. Music can help orient patients who are confused, agitated, or upset.
It can also help distract them during medical care or procedures that might be frustrating or distressing. Patients often respond well to choosing music from their youth.
12. Music Can Bolster the Immune System
It might seem incredible, but music can help build your immune system! Studies have shown that listening to music increases the production of hormones that fight off viruses, including antibodies like immunoglobulin A.
Music also decreases the production of stress hormones like cortisol, which also plays a role in immune health. Increased stress can damage your immune system, making it harder to fight off viruses. In this way, music provides a one-two punch of increasing helpful hormones while decreasing potentially harmful ones.
13. Music Can Improve Focus
If you’re trying to do something that requires intense focus, like work or study, you might think that music would distract you. But evidence shows that that’s not the case!
Music can improve your focus for several reasons. Firstly, it reduces stress hormones and makes you more relaxed. This, in turn, helps you clear your mind of agitation to focus on your task.
Music also stimulates the centers of the brain that deal with concentration, information retention, memory, organization, and making predictions, all of which help when you’re trying to focus on a task.
14. Music Can Make You More Productive
Many studies have shown that music can help you be more productive, especially if you choose your music. This is related to the release of hormones, including dopamine and oxytocin. These hormones are related to pleasure and reward perception in the brain, making you feel happier and more relaxed as you work.
But it’s not just increased productivity — it’s also improved accuracy. These same studies have shown that surgeons operate faster and more precisely when listening to music during surgery, especially the music of their choice.
15. Music Helps Shape the Immature Brain
Music has been shown to be a particularly important tool for children. It fires some of the most important centers of the brain for better cognitive development, including parts of the brain related to language, spatial awareness, motor skills, and emotional intelligence. It can also boost mathematical skills.
Listening to music is extremely important for children, but learning to play a musical instrument is even better. Researchers found that just a few years of musical instruction in childhood continued to have long-term cognitive effects as much as 40 years later.
16. Music Can Be Distracting Behind the Wheel
While most of the effects of music on the brain are good, there are a few that are detrimental, as well. The most noticeable place you might notice this is when you’re behind the wheel of a car.
At least one study has indicated that listening to music while driving might distract you, and not simply because you’re fiddling with the radio dial. Some types of music, such as classical, cause the driver to become too relaxed to focus effectively. Others like heavy metal tended to make the driver more erratic and aggressive.
Interestingly, the study also found that the best music for driving, if you’re going to listen to any, is pop music.
17. Music Can Make You More Creative
Many people enjoy listening to music while they work, study, write or pursue hobbies. If you feel like your creativity is stimulated by music, you’re not alone. When looking for answers to the question of how does music affect the brain, it should come as no surprise that music also encourages creativity.
Certain studies have confirmed that music that makes you feel strong emotions can make you more productive and creative. Firstly, it promotes hormones that reduce stress and make you happier, which makes it easier to focus!
But more importantly, music improves divergent thinking, which is a lofty way of saying that it helps you think out of the box and come up with original ideas.
18. Music Helps With Facial Interpretation
Some studies have found that music plays a substantial role in our perceptions of others, especially in our initial reactions to faces. In other words, when we hear music that we interpret as “happy,” we are quicker to see similar expressions in others. The same goes for feelings of sadness or negativity.
Though it might not surprise you that music can play a vital role in our emotions, you might not know how much. Researchers found that music can change these perceptions in as little as 15 seconds.
19. Music Makes You More Empathetic
Music has also been shown to increase prosocial behaviors — in other words, behaviors that are related to kindness, empathy, and helping others. Amazingly, this has been observed even in children as young as 14 months.
These effects were even more potent when people were observed participating in a musical activity together, such as singing in a group or dancing together.
Other studies showed that people listening to music were more likely to help others, even if it meant doing so voluntarily or spontaneously.
20. Music Can Aid in Treating Certain Mental Disorders
Music is consistently helpful in calming people who are stressed, anxious, confused, or disoriented. These effects persist in helping ease the symptoms of other mental disorders and diagnoses, including schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is also valuable for helping individuals with autism spectrum disorder during moments of agitation or distress. Researchers are still learning about the extent to which music therapy eases these symptoms. But it’s becoming clearer that it will continue to play a strong role in learning coping mechanisms and providing mental calm.
21. Music Can Improve Language Skills
Musical education has been connected to better language skills in children. By learning how to distinguish between different concepts in music — such as pitch, notes, tempo, and other aspects — children develop new ways to express these ideas.
This is particularly connected to learning an instrument like the piano, though it can occur with any type of musical training. Music also helps children learn to listen better and develop other skills such as finger dexterity. But its connection to language development remains particularly strong as kids form new ways to express concepts.
22. Playing an Instrument Improves Brain Connectivity
Taking music lessons, especially in early childhood, has been shown to improve brain plasticity. This term refers to the brain’s ability to grow and develop better connections.
Studies comparing musicians’ brains to those of people who did not play instruments reflected these findings. People who play instruments have more developed brains, better blood flow, and more thoroughly formed synapses.
Additionally, musicians consistently have better auditory processing skills, memorization abilities, motor control, and mental flexibility. These abilities last even into old age, continuing to provide benefits as people reach their final years. Senior citizens who play instruments experience lower levels of cognitive decline than others.
23. Musical Lyrics Can Change Your Prejudices
We have already seen the ways that music can make people more empathetic. But even more amazing is music’s ability to change prejudices
Positive and inclusive musical lyrics have been connected to kinder actions, even if people aren’t consciously listening to the words of a song. For example, positive music playing in restaurants was connected to people leaving larger tips.
Listening to music with inclusive lyrics also helped people lose their fears of others and move past prejudices, as well as spend their money more generously.
As we’ve seen, there are countless ways that music affects your brain, from forming connections in the early years to reducing daily stress. Early musical training can set the stage during our formative years, but even listening to music regularly can help us feel better.
Music therapy continues to develop for more people, including those with certain mental diagnoses and especially seniors with various forms of dementia. Evidence shows that music affects our perceptions of the world and even how we feel physically.
One thing is certain: science is still just beginning to understand the many ways that music affects our brains.
So, honestly, how does music affect the brain? If you want to see the effects of music in your own life, start investigating how it can affect your focus, creativity, and mood. You may be surprised at what you experience!