Here’s a guest post from Zac Green, editor-in-chief over at popular music blog ZingInstruments.com.
As we become increasingly obsessed with monitoring everything from our heart rate to our calorie intake, we are on a never-ending search for a healthy lifestyle. While most of our attention rightly focuses on diet and exercise, it’s easy to overlook an ancient ingredient for a health lifestyle: music.Music has incredible health benefits and has some surprisingly positive effects on our brains, often far better than over-the-counter solutions. Music is a powerful, easily accessible and perfectly legal method of producing profound changes in the human brain.
Whether by listening to our favourite songs, practicing an instrument or even learning music theory, there are a huge list of ways that music boosts your brain power.
So what effects does music have on the brain? Let’s take a look…First of all, it turns out that practicing a musical instrument can give you an important social and academic advantage. A 2012 study showed that music lessons are one of the most powerful ways you can boost your brain power, and will lead to increases in everything from language skills, auditory perception and even lead to an increased ability to read and write. In another study, a group of 4-6 year old children underwent one month’s musical training – as a result their verbal performance significantly improved.Your brain is only capable of acknowledging so much information at any one moment, and will filter out the rest as unimportant. How effective this process is varies from one person to the next, but it turns out that just listening to the right piece of music can make you more mentally alert, so you’ll be less likely to miss important details that wouldn’t jump out at you before. This is especially the case in exam conditions, where it was found background music helped to enhance cognitive performance.Music training can literally cause the structure of your brain to change in response. Since playing an instrument, understanding the theory and improvising on the fly – to name just some of the heavy cognitive processes going on in the background. In order to cope with all of this, various areas of the brain associated with dozens of different skills and abilities become far more developed compared to those who don’t have regular music practice.Although this isn’t directly related to brain power, it has a positive ripple effect. Less stress and anxiety, adventurousness and a willingness to take on a challenge are admirable traits that come with increased self esteem and confidence, and it’s been shown that musical training and group or solo performance can lead to just that – and all of the other benefits that come with it. Music has also been found to alleviate the effects of depression by reducing feelings of sadness or hopelessness. The ability to quickly solve problems can make a huge difference, and can sometimes be the only resource you have. By learning to play an instrument, your ability to do this improves. A study showed that people who regularly attended music lessons have a much thicker corpus callosum, the part of the brain responsible for communication across the two hemispheres, which allows for faster problem solving and creativity. There are also several biological functions that can be aided by pleasant music, including the function of our blood vessels.If you need something with a little more immediacy, listening to music whilst you’re working can provide an immediate boost to focus and productivity. Different types of music are more beneficial for certain types of tasks than others. If the task is complex or creative, instrumental music is the way to go. If the task is dull or repetitive then more upbeat music helps to alleviate boredom – especially if it’s your own choice.If you’ve ever read Dale Carnegie’s ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People’ you’ll appreciate how important the power of persuasion is. Music can also be used to influence other’s brains – specifically the chemicals that influence behaviour and emotion. Listening to music can cause releases of dopamine and oxytocin. These two chemicals create feelings of happiness and trust respectively, and can be used to influence your own brain and that of others by simply playing the right kind of music. So next time you want to influence someone at a dinner party, make sure you’re playing the right kind of music!It’s clear that without music the world would be a very different place. Far more than simple entertainment, music is a teacher, a healer and a motivator. Predating language, music has for millennia been used to bond people, heal us and has been a key ingredient in the human experience.
Whether you’re searching for lifelong benefits or a quick pick-me-up to get through a tough night, you should always have at least a few of your favourite tunes close to hand.
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Also published on Medium.