You can listen to the audio version of this article.
We all know the therapeutic benefits of listening to music, be it to boost our mood, comfort us when we are sad, or help us to vent out our anger or frustration. The strong bond between music, culture, and human emotion goes back to our earliest ancestors.
But why is it that even the simplest rhythm and melody can have such a powerful impact?
What’s going on in our brain?
When we listen to music, play a musical instrument or compose it, we activate and engage multiple areas across both halves of the brain. In the process of appreciating a song, we simultaneously work our memory centres to recall past situations in which we have enjoyed it; and we also rely on our language centres to remember lyrics.
Naturally, playing an instrument – or even tapping along to the beat – is even more engaging. Planning the next notes requires an effort from the frontal lobe, and coordinating both hands challenges your motor control, sense of touch, and auditory processing. Essentially, it’s one of the best possible workouts for your brain, and can actually increase your capacity to learn.
How music benefits us
- Protects our mind. In the same way that regular exercise protects our body from illness, a musical ‘workout’ for our mind can keep it healthier. Studies have shown that music can help patients recover from a stroke, manage conditions like anxiety and depression, and can even slow down the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- Improves our listening ability. Taking the time to really appreciate a piece of music and listen to the different parts of a composition can help our ability to listen in everyday life. Musicians have been shown to outperform non-musicians when it comes to picking out specific voices in a noisy room, and have a better feeling for expression and rhythm.
- Promotes mindfulness. Being able to focus our mind can be helpful in reducing stress levels and in maintaining positive mental well-being. Meditation is perfect for doing this, but concentrating on a piece of music can be just as effective. In fact, learning a musical instrument can be so beneficial in this respect that it can be used as a therapy for ADHD.
- Allows us to meet new people. Healthy relationships are often linked to a healthy life. Using music as an icebreaker during conversation or even going out to meet new people by playing in an orchestra, band, or choir can pave the way to making meaningful relationships.
- Gives us a sense of achievement. The challenge of learning a new skill can be daunting, but the commitment to learning a new musical instrument can be incredibly fulfilling. If you stick to a routine and make it a habit to practise, you’ll be rewarded with steady progress. The best part is that you can start learning at any age. Once you get the hang of one musical instrument, you will even be able to transfer that knowledge to something different.
- Boosts our memory. Do you struggle with forgetfulness? Learning to play a musical instrument can boost your spatial reasoning, verbal memory and literacy abilities, as well as strengthening synapse connections across the brain.
How can you get started?
Did you ever play a musical instrument as a child? Picking up something that doesn’t feel completely unfamiliar can be a reassuring place to start. Alternatively, you might have always wished you could play a particular musical instrument and never had the chance.
If you want to try out a few different things before committing, you can head to your local music shop. Most staff members will be thrilled to share their instruments with you, and share any tips or guidance they might have.
Don’t forget that there are other ways of making music. Learning the basics of becoming a DJ might be more up your street, or even using software like Garageband to compose your own tracks. Any type of music consumption or production is a boost for your brain, but the most important thing is that you’re passionate about doing it.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg.
Disclaimer: Psychreg is mainly for information purposes only. Materials on this website are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on this website. Read our full disclaimer here.