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The Many Ways Music Stimulates the Brain

Like all sounds, when music enters the ear it’s converted to electrical signal. Those signals travel up the auditory nerve to the brain’s auditory cortex and the sounds are processed. For regular sounds, the process typically ends there; for music, the process is far more complex because music awakens other synapses and has the amazing ability to stimulate the brain and body in incredibly unique ways. It can calm you, help you focus, and help motivate you for success. Music truly is therapeutic and mood-altering, so listen and listen often.

How Music Affects the Brain

Music is one of the only activities that stimulates the whole brain. The prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and parietal lobe are stimulated by music. Music’s different parts stimulate different areas, but music’s meter is processed by both the left and right hemispheres. The left brain hemisphere is stimulated primarily by rhythm and pitch. The right brain hemisphere is stimulated primarily by timbre and melody, and the whole things goes active for the meter.

Listening to music is all well and good, but learning music actually improves your cognitive abilities. Children and adults may see improved executive function while learning to play, according to a study published by Boston Children’s Hospital. If you’ve always wanted to be a rock god, there’s no better time to seek out a guitar teacher than right now.

If cognitive ability isn’t a good enough reason to take music lessons, consider that Psychology Today reports that musical training actually optimizes brain function. Having trouble paying attention? Play music. “Brain circuits involved in musical improvisation are shaped by systematic training, leading to less reliance on working memory and more extensive connectivity within the brain.”

The earlier a person becomes familiar with listening and making music the better. Get your children involved in music before the age of seven to take full advantage of its effects on brain anatomy. For infants and those too little to really be trained, consider furnishing them with musical toys and musical books.

New Technologies Lead to New Musical Discoveries

New brain imaging techniques have resulted in some pretty substantial discoveries regarding how music activates the brain; specifically, music activates brain regions that are unexpected, such as the medial prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is located just behind the eyes, and it’s responsible for motor functioning, such as coordination and physical movement. It’s also involved in creating emotions and memory, which is to be expected because music is emotional and it can trigger memories… but motor functioning?

A 2008 study concluded that music training significantly improves motor and reasoning skills. It can be argued that listening to music also has substantive effects, but learning music truly improves auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills, and children who were tested showed improvement in vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills.

But, hey, not everyone has the time for learning right? If you can’t take up an instrument (it’s highly recommended that you do), listen to classical music whenever possible. All music is great and affects the brain, but classical music relaxes the body and can act as a cure for insomnia. It’s been shown to boost brainpower, improve mood, lower stress, and lots more.

Add music to your daily life; do it because it benefits you and do it because you love music. No matter what you listen to, it’s doing good things for your mind. It’s free; you enjoy it; and, it’s one of the only ways to get your brain firing on all cylinders.