Listening to music can be entertaining, and some research suggests that it might even make you healthier. Music can be a source of pleasure and contentment, but there are many other psychological benefits as well. Music can relax the mind, energize the body, and even help people better manage pain.
The notion that music can influence your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors probably does not come as much of a surprise. If you’ve ever felt pumped up while listening to your favorite fast-paced rock anthem or been moved to tears by a tender live performance, then you easily understand the power of music to impact moods and even inspire action.
The psychological effects of music can be powerful and wide-ranging. Music therapy is an intervention sometimes used to promote emotional health, help patients cope with stress, and boost psychological well-being. Some research even suggests that your taste in music can provide insight into different aspects of your personality.
If you want to firm up your body, head to the gym. If you want to exercise your brain, listen to music.
“There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does,” says one Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist. “If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.”
Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.
Experts are trying to understand how our brains can hear and play music. A stereo system puts out vibrations that travel through the air and somehow get inside the ear canal. These vibrations tickle the eardrum and are transmitted into an electrical signal that travels through the auditory nerve to the brain stem, where it is reassembled into something we perceive as music.
Johns Hopkins researchers have had dozens of jazz performers and rappers improvise music while lying down inside an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine to watch and see which areas of their brains light up.
“Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it,” notes one otolaryngologist.
Everyday Brain Boosts from Music
The power of music isn’t limited to interesting research. Try these methods of bringing more music—and brain benefits—into your life.
Jump-start your creativity.
Listen to what your kids or grandkids listen to, experts suggest. Often we continue to listen to the same songs and genre of music that we did during our teens and 20s, and we generally avoid hearing anything that’s not from that era.
New music challenges the brain in a way that old music doesn’t. It might not feel pleasurable at first, but that unfamiliarity forces the brain to struggle to understand the new sound.
Recall a memory from long ago.
Reach for familiar music, especially if it stems from the same time period that you are trying to recall. Listening to the Beatles might bring you back to the first moment you laid eyes on your spouse, for instance.
Listen to your body.
Pay attention to how you react to different forms of music, and pick the kind that works for you. What helps one person concentrate might be distracting to someone else, and what helps one person unwind might make another person jumpy.
Music can improve mood, decrease pain and anxiety, and facilitate opportunities for emotional expression. Research suggests that music can benefit our physical and mental health in numerous ways. Music therapy is used by our hospice and palliative care board-certified music therapist to enhance conventional treatment for a variety of illnesses and disease processes – from anxiety, depression and stress, to the management of pain and enhancement of functioning after degenerative neurologic disorders.
- It’s heart healthy. Research has shown that blood flows more easily when music is played. It can also reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, decrease cortisol (stress hormone) levels and increase serotonin and endorphin levels in the blood.
- It elevates the mood. Music can boost the brain’s production of the hormone dopamine. This increased dopamine production helps relieve feelings of anxiety and depression. Music is processed directly by the amygdala, which is the part of the brain involved in mood and emotions.
- It reduces stress. Research has found that listening to music can relieve stress by triggering biochemical stress reducers.
- It relieves symptoms of depression. When you’re feeling down in the dumps, music can help pick you up – much like exercise.
- It stimulates memories. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia but music therapy has been shown to relieve some of its symptoms. Music therapy can relax an agitated patient, improve the mood and open communication in patients.
- It manages pain. By reducing stress levels and providing a strong competing stimulus to the pain signals that enter the brain, music therapy can assist in pain management.
- It eases pain. Music can meaningfully reduce the perceived intensity of pain, especially in geriatric care, intensive care or palliative medicine.
- It helps people eat less. Playing soft music in the background (and dimming the lights) during a meal can help people slow down while eating and ultimately consume less food in one sitting.
- It increases workout endurance. Listening to those top workout tracks can boost physical performance and increase endurance during a tough exercise session.
Music has the ability to make us dance like nobody’s watching, sing until your throat is sore and uncontrollably tap your feet.
Because there is so much music out there, different music affects everybody uniquely.
From rock and folk to electronic and pop and everything in between, there’s an endless variety of music to listen to and finding the songs that speak to you is important.
Researchers from the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development have found that music increases memory and retention as well as maximises learning capabilities.
Our brains trigger particular emotions, memories and thoughts, which often leads to more positive effects toward mental health.
Here are five potential benefits music is said to have on our brains:
Elevate your mood and motivation
A strong mental wellbeing is closely aligned with optimistic and positive feelings.
So, when you’re having a bad day, there’s nothing better than playing an uplifting and joyous song as loud as you can.
The bright musical tones and lyrics will change or elevate your mood and empower you for the day ahead.
Slow start to the morning? Need to get through a long day of the week? No motivation to go for a run?
Up-tempo, fast-paced music gets your brain and body moving, making you amped up and motivated to enjoy what’s ahead.
In fact, researchers have claimed classical and ambient music have the best mood-boosting benefits, while metal and hard electronic music were considered to have the opposite effect.
Music’s ability to be a stress reliever should not be downplayed.
Whether playing in the background or you’re giving it your full attention, certain genres of music have the innate ability to reduce stress.
Soft, ambient music provides calming stimulation for the mind. In this case, best avoid loud rock or metal to moderate your stress.
If you’re looking to wash away some stress, search for playlists that contain a lot of ambient and quiet music.
One of many great benefits of music is that it can be used while you perform your everyday activities.
Trying to stay focussed and concentrate on an activity—whether that be studying, working or cleaning—can be difficult for some.
Certain types of music are known to boost focus, so it’s important to know which music is right for improving focus.
We recommend listening to instrumental, classical or ambient music.
Everyone enjoys relaxing and switching off their mind at the end of a long day.
Playing music is a simple way of promoting relaxation as it releases tension in your muscles, carrying away any stress or anxiety.
When your muscles are loose, so is your mind.
Listening to music as you drift off to sleep is also an effective way of relaxing and reducing stress as it can help slow your breathing and calm your mind.
Reduce anxiety and depression
Understanding how music affects your emotions goes a long way to help ease anxious and depressive thoughts.
Music Therapy has become a popular form of treating anxiety and depression.
It’s an exercise in listening and composing therapeutic music to promote physical and mental rehabilitation.
In fact, a recent study by Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International has shown instrumental, classical or ambient music can help reduce anxiety by up to 65%.