Our brains are one of nature’s most incredible and complex pieces of machinery. Even to this day scientists, researchers, and doctors are still trying to unlock it’s secrets and mysteries.
As a therapist, I love to see how the brain responds to different music based interventions and therapeutic strategies I use to work on goals and objectives with my clients. I am constantly finding myself surprised and confused at how the brain works. One example in which I found myself puzzled by someone’s brain was when one of my clients had to go on hiatus for the summer. When they returned, I was really concerned that we would have to do some backtracking to get them back to where we left off; however, as soon as I sang the first phrase of a song we had used in therapy before they left, it was as if they had never missed a single session! “Incredible” is the only word I have to describe my reaction. So, how does music affect the brain?
- Music can repair brain damage. Music therapists often use a style of singing that utilizes rhythmic pacing with simple words and phrases to encourage conversational speech when working with victims of a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Music is processed on the right side of your brain whereas speech is processed on the left. Through this music based therapeutic approach of singing rather than speaking, a connection is made from the left to the right hemisphere. This connection between the two hemispheres help to create new pathways and repair damaged parts of the brain through this stimulation. Want to learn more about this therapeutic strategy? Click here. Do I have your interest peaked? Click here for another great testimony of how music changed the life of congresswoman “Gabby” Gifford.
- Music is a natural drug! Although our brains process sound in the auditory cortex, it has been proven that music activates areas of the brain that are also associated with memory, emotions, and motor planning. When your brain listens to music dopamine is released. Dopamine is also the same hormone released when you exercise, eat your favorite dessert, socialize, or when your brain enjoys a particular activity or experience; some people even reference dopamine as the “feel good” hormone. So, in addition to making you feel good, music can also be used to decrease depression, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve one’s mood. (Additional Fun Fact: The chills you get when you listen to music, is mostly caused by the brain releasing dopamine while anticipating the peak moment of a song.)
- Music can improve memory. As stated earlier, our brains process music in the same area as where memories are created and stored. When we hear a familiar song, we are often able to recall a moment from our past that is connected to that melody or song lyric. The big question is “Why?” When we hear a song that we like, our body releases the hormone dopamine. As our brains attach a positive feeling to the song, a memory is also being created or correlated to that song. Once our brains associate the positive memory with the song it increases our ability to remember certain things, there in turn improving memory. A great example would be the Alphabet Song. Have you ever had to recall what letter comes after J in the alphabet? Many of you might automatically sing your A, B, Cs in order to answer this question.
- Music stimulates your entire brain! With the exception of exercise music is one of the only activities that stimulate your entire brain. Using fMRI, or Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, a research team from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, discovered that by listening to music that both the auditory areas and large-scale neural networks of the brain are stimulated and employed. Researchers also found that components of music, such as rhythm, timbre, and musical pulse evoke different responses from the brain as each component is processed. (Source: Science Daily)
As you can see, there are many interesting ways music affects and stimulates our brains. Has music affected your life in some way? Have you personally experienced any benefits from music? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!