Music is one of the few activities where people around the globe respond in a common way. It connects all kinds different people across a myriad of cultures, traditions, and practices all over the world. It’s pretty safe to say that music plays a huge role in our daily lives – whether we are aware of it or not.
But, exactly how does music really affect one’s personality and overall well-being?
The effects of music are cognitive, psychological, social, behavioral, and emotional. Listening to music, singing, playing, composing, and improvising are activities that not only allow one to express inner states and feelings but also have many positive effects on the people engaged in them. Research shows that music can even make you smarter.
Neuromusicology, a new discipline in science which explores how the human mind reacts to music, is showing that a musical experience involves almost every part and section of the brain at some point. During the musical process, your brain functions more efficiently in many ways. Here are six specific ways music can make you smarter:
Music enhances learning and concentration.
According to studies, people who take music lessons regularly have more learning capacity than people who do not. Music encourages neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to grow and learn. In the article, Neuroscience of Music – How Music Enhances Learning Through Neuroplasticity, explains it like this:
An active engagement with musical sounds not only enhances neuroplasticity, she said, but also enables the nervous system to provide the stable scaffolding of meaningful patterns so important to learning. ‘The brain is unable to process all of the available sensory information from second to second, and thus must selectively enhance what is relevant,’ Kraus said. Playing an instrument primes the brain to choose what is relevant in a complex process that may involve reading or remembering a score, timing issues and coordination with other musicians.”
A musician’s brain selectively enhances information-bearing elements in sound, In an integral interrelationship between sensory and cognitive processes, the nervous system makes associations between complex sounds and their meanings. Your brain builds upon these efficient sound-to-meaning connections for other aspects of communication. It enhances the absorption of information which can help the brain to focus better. Research confirms that music improves some aspects of memory and reading skills.
Music changes the structure and function of the brain.
Science has determined that the brains of musicians are structurally and functionally different than people who don’t play instruments. The size and symmetry of the brain changes. The article, Musicians’ brains fire symmetrically when they listen to music, writes:
People who learn to play musical instruments can expect their brains to change in structure and function. When people are taught to play a piece of piano music, for example, the part of their brains that represents their finger movements gets bigger. Musicians are also better at identifying pitch and speech sounds – brain imaging studies suggest that this is because their brains respond more quickly and strongly to sound.“
Studies found that that the corpus callosum – the strip of tissue that connects the left and right hemisphere of the brain – is also larger in musicians. This could mean that the two halves of a musician’s brain are better at communicating with each other compared with non-musicians. When information transfers more efficiently, memory and other cognitive processes benefit.
Music boosts your overall brain power.
As mentioned above, music improves the overall function of the brain. Because of this, it boosts your brain power. Learning a musical instrument is like training for the Olympic Games for your brain. It teaches the brain to problem-solve. There is some evidence which shows that people who’ve had musical training are better at math and science.
While the brain benefits are markedly greater for those who start young, it’s never too late to reap musical brain rewards. Because your brain is neuroplastic all throughout your life, it can adapt and improve from learning music at any age.
Music can improve creativity and connectivity.
Music improves creativity. Although not all types of music or genres have been shown to have this effect, studies found that upbeat and happy tunes can encourage creative and innovative thinking. Other research used MRIs to see how participants’ brains reacted to music they especially liked. Those experiments saw that peoples’ brains lit up more in response to their favorite tracks. Scientists discovered that listening to your favorite music makes a huge difference in how your brain responds.
The article, Your Favorite Music Has 1 Major Impact on Your Brain Says Science, quotes the study:
We speculate that listening to music has the potential to alter brain network connectivity organization and that music preference dictates the connectivity that can be expected,’ the study authors write. When you listen to music you don’t love, the brain’s connectivity between memory and emotional centers doesn’t light up. In fact, the MRI images hinted that perhaps when listening to music we don’t like, our brains are less connected. ‘Based on these findings, it might be possible that listening to preferred music has the potential to engage such brain functions,’ they write.“
Music improves your brain’s language skills.
People who have language or speaking challenges can benefit from many different therapies, including music therapy. One study discovered that musicians – amateurs and professionals alike – were better able to hear targeted sounds in a noisy environment, which is an important skill for language.
Research using brain-imaging show that music activates many diverse parts of the brain, including an overlap in where the brain processes music and language. This neural overlap suggests that parts of the neural circuitries established for language may have been recycled during evolution for musicality, or vice versa that musicality served as a springboard for language emergence.
Musical training strengthens the brain’s executive function.
Your brain’s executive functions include numerous critical tasks from problem-solving and planning to information processing, retaining, and absorption. Musical training has proven to have positive effects on the executive functions of the brain.
Specifically, one study showed improvement in the areas of cognitive flexibility, working memory, and processing speed, which may explain the link to academic achievement. The brains of children with musical training showed more activation and looked more mature in terms of executive functioning networks. Both children and adults had better executive functioning skills than nonmusicians.
Learning how to play an instrument and to perform songs vocally and instrumentally is a learning process that requires focused attention and goal-directed behavior. So, the more you train your brain in the way to learn music, the more you allow your brain’s executive functions to be strengthened for other tasks.
Wrapping it all up, the evidence is clear that music causes your brain to function better.
Liyana Perry was a contributing author on this post. Liyanna works with Sage Music School which bases lessons on the science and research of the psychology of learning. Their effective teaching methods create confident and capable students who enjoy the happiness of making music.