Music is one of the most fascinating things that humanity has created. It’s something that just about everyone gets on an instinctive level, but few can explain how it works exactly. In many ways, it is close to magic. A musician blows some air throw a tube or plucks a few strings, and it sends invisible waves through the air, changing the way we feel. That might be one of music’s most mysterious attributes; it can change the way we feel. For the entirety of written history, humans have used music to improve their mood, but we’re only just now starting to truly understand how it works.
In this article, we will dig into just how music affects the human heart. We will go over the common connections between different sounds and different emotions before moving on to consider just how music actually works its magic on us. Read on as we unlock one of the oldest mysteries of human existence.
Ways Music Can Change Your Brain
Most of us know that music can impact the way we feel. It’s obvious with certain songs. Happy songs make us feel happier; sad songs make us feel sadder, angry songs make us feel angrier, and so on. But that’s just the surface!
There’s a reason that music has long been used by religious figures to assist in prayer and meditation. This is because we understand instinctively that music takes us to a different level, whether that level of spiritual or physical. It impacts our ability to concentrate, changes our outlook, and helps us connect with others.
Even without looking at the brain we can see that music has power. Scientists with the University of Missouri had people consistently listen to upbeat music for two weeks and report back on their feelings. The people in charge of the study found that those who listened to music reported higher levels of happiness when compared to the control group that didn’t change their listening habits.
One interesting thing turned up by a different study is the impact of sad music. You would think that sad music might make you sadder overall, but this isn’t necessarily the case. When more somber music was played for sad individuals, they reported that the song offered them a way of processing their emotions. Knowing that other people are feeling the same things that we are helps us process feelings such as loneliness and helplessness.
Your Brain on Music
It has taken us so long to understand how music affects our brain because we only just gained the ability to truly examine the effect. After all, music isn’t like a pill that dissolves in our body, releasing chemicals into the body. No, music goes into our mind, and then our mind tells our body to release chemicals. You read that right, in some ways music is like medicine or some form of drug since consuming it can result in the release of mood-altering chemicals.
The impact of music could only really be studied with the advent of neuroscience. Neuroscience is commonly thought of as the scientific study of the brain, but it actually looks at the whole nervous system. In the past, the study of these systems was limited because there are few situations where the brain can be studied with the naked eye, and in most of them the brain must be dead. Few people were willing to let scientists cut open their head just to see what happened to it when music was played.
Today scientists can actually look at the way our brain behaves in different situations. They can now scan the brains of people as they listen to music and see which areas of the brain light up. Scientists were surprised to find that listening to music was something of a “full brain” exercise, lighting up just about every part of the brain. Different types of music light up different areas. It was found that classical music was more likely to encourage the areas of the brain responsible for visual attention. So if you’re trying to focus on something then playing classical music might be helpful.
One takeaway from recent studies is that music is something of an enhancing agent. It is powerful, but it isn’t magic. For example, playing happy music for a sad individual won’t necessarily make them happier automatically. The person has to desire happiness. It seems like music is something like a partner, helping to encourage us on in our endeavors.
Finally, it was found that the impact music has on your brain lasts even when the music is off. Scientists discovered that changes in their subjects’ brain activity and body chemistry persisted for hours after the music source was turned off.
Using Music to Your Advantage
Now that you know how music affects your mood and your brain you can look for ways to use this knowledge to your own advantage. Many people think that they have no control over their mood, but this new information clearly shows that you can change the way you feel by changing the music you listen to. You might not be able to cure depression by listening to an upbeat song, but it might be able to help.
Try and listen to music whenever you can, but you should also note that the kind of music you are listening to matters. If you need to focus you should avoid music with lyrics and pick something that can fade into the background.
If you truly want to unleash the life-changing power of music you should start playing a musical instrument. It has been found that playing music improves your brain in a variety of ways. Careful study of musicians’ brains has found that they are more symmetrical and possess a larger than average corpus callosum. These differences are used to explain why musicians possess better hand-eye coordination, fine motor control, and memory.
Whether you decide to pick up an instrument or put on your favorite song, it’s clear that using music wisely can improve your brain and overall quality of life.