Music: the Key to a Healthy Brain

February 11, 2020

Did you know that some researchers and doctors specialize in the effects of music on our nervous systems? Writing, playing, and listening to music all affect the human nervous system. This specialty is called neuro musicology. Although no one truly knows by whom or when this field of study was first pursued, we know of people who were part of its beginning. Robert Zatorre, a neurologist from Montreal, was one of the first doctors to write a paper in this field in 1979. He worked alongside Don Campbell who wrote his book “Mozart Effect” in 1997 to explain how music can heal the body (Sandy Tabachnick).

 

During the 21st century, the world of medicine has advanced. New mental and physical diseases have been discovered along with treatments and cures. Neurologic Music Therapy is now used to treat Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s Disease, Down Syndrome, Neurologic Injuries, Genetic Disorders, Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Cardiovascular Stroke.

 

In 2008, a study was conducted to determine the impact of listening to music on stroke patients. At the time, stroke was the 4th leading cause of death in the United States. This study incorporated sixty patients that were hospitalized due to major strokes. The sixty patients were divided into three groups of twenty. The first group of patients had to listen to one hour of music a day, the second group listened to audiobooks, and the third group didn’t listen to any form of audio recordings. After three months, the doctors checked the improvement of the patients’ verbal memory. In the first group it had improved by 60%, in the second group it had improved by 18% and in the third group it had improved by 29%. In addition, patients in the first group improved a skill called focused attention, this is the ability to perform and control mental operations, by 17%. This showed the doctors that by listening to music, nerve cells in the brain form connections between one another. These connections are what help repair the injured brain tissues.

 

Through such studies, neuro musicologists have found that music is one of the most beneficial activities to the human brain because of its positive impacts, both while playing music and listening to it.

 

Listening to Music:

Through studies like the one mentioned above, neuro musicologists have discovered that when listening to music, the brain releases a substance called dopamine, which improves memory and relieves pain.

 

Dopamine is a substance that is produced in the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area of the brain. This substance is one of the ways our brains detect what is harmful and what is beneficial to our body. For example, when a human eats, sleeps or exercises, the dopamine that is released tells the human brain to continue doing these activities because they are beneficial to our bodies. However, when a person cuts their finger, breaks a bone or feels pain, the dopamine that is released tells the human brain to avoid doing any activity that would lead to these consequences. Listening to music releases “positive” dopamine that tells the brain to continue doing this activity. 

 

Listening to music can benefit a person in multiple ways. For example, listening to music can enhance cognition. This means that it can improve one’s reading and literacy skills as well as mathematical abilities.  Studies show that because listening to music can involve linguistics (logical left side) and musicality (creative right side) of the brain, it enhances connections between both hemispheres through the nerve band called the callosum.

 

In addition, listening to music has been used as therapy for patients with Alzheimer's and dementia. It has been demonstrated in a study that a patient listening to just one hour of familiar music a day stimulates specific parts of the brain, and can show drastic improvements in memory.

 

Neuro musicologists are now finding that memory-loss medical conditions can be avoided (depending on the person) by just listening to music, as leisure, for a short amount of time every day.

 

Playing Music:

Playing a musical instrument is one of the only activities that truly engages both the brain and the body. Neuro musicologists call this effect “fireworks”. When neuro musicologists monitored the brains of patients who were listening to music, they saw that many parts of the brain were activated simultaneously, including the audio visual and fine motor control centers. The brain scan image looked like fireworks. Hence, music is one of the most beneficial activities. 

 

When playing any musical instrument, the player has to practice the songs several times until they can hopefully achieve perfection. Throughout this process, the musician will most likely encounter several challenges. This significant amount of practice that is necessary to get through these challenges can train the cerebrum (the part of the brain that controls learning amongst other things) to be ready to face challenges without backing away. This discipline leads to a strong work ethic, which a person can draw on when facing challenges in other areas of life.

 

To improve your brain’s health, simply play or listen to music for at least one hour every day!

 

Sources:

Tabachnick, Sandy. “Scientists Study Music's Effects on Our Brains and Bodies.” Isthmus, 12 Jan. 2012, isthmus.com/music/scientists-study-musics-effects-on-our-brains-and-bodies/.

 

Harvard Health Publishing. “Music and Health.” Harvard Health, July 2011, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/music-and-health.

 

Bushak, Lecia. “This Is Your Brain On Music: How Our Brains Process Melodies That Pull On Our Heartstrings.” Medical Daily, 11 Mar. 2014, www.medicaldaily.com/your-brain-music-how-our-brains-process-melodies-pull-our-heartstrings-271007. 

 

Julson, Erica. “10 Best Ways to Increase Dopamine Levels Naturally.” Health Line, 10 May 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-increase-dopamine#section2.

 

Alban, Deane. “How Music Affects the Brain.” Be Brain Fit, 26 Jan. 2020, bebrainfit.com/music-brain/.

 

Kiera wright. “How Does Music Affect the Brain?” Kiera Wright, 5 Dec. 2018, kierawright.home.blog/2018/12/05/how-does-music-affect-the-br

 

Collins, Anita, director. How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain. YouTube, YouTube, 22 July 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0JKCYZ8hng.

 

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