It’s Catchy. It’s Fun. It’s Just Music, Right?
You’re standing in line at a coffee shop and you hear a catchy tune playing overhead. Before you know it or maybe without even realizing it, you’re tapping your foot with the rhythm. You might be nodding your head ever so slightly with the beat. If the wait is long enough, you pull out your phone to Shazam the song and add it to your playlist.
Chances are, the next time you listen to it and each time after that, you’ll probably remember it as the song you heard at that one coffee shop that one day. You might even remember some other small details from your visit or even the remainder of that day as you caught yourself humming the same tune over and over!
Experiencing music is such a normal part of our lives that we hardly give it any second thought. But the truth is, every time we listen to music, there’s a whole myriad of connections and sparks going off in every single part of our brain.
How Does Music Affect the Brain?
We’ve heard this before: the brain is just like a muscle. For a muscle to get stronger, it needs constant use and stretching. Turns out, the best form of brain strength training is actually through listening/playing music.
Listening vs. Playing
Listening to music alone results in our brain activity to light up – including the visual, auditory, and motor areas in our brain. We’ll explore some of those effects below.
First of all, listening to music promotes activation of the motor complex. Music with groove promotes something called corticospinal excitability, which causes that irresistible urge to dance. Music also causes blood to pump into the muscles in our legs, which many believe is what causes people to tap their feet. Rhythms can also cause changes in heart rate and respiratory patterns and can actually cause these internal cycles to sync up with the music. How cool is that?
The visual cortex is also active during music listening. Daniel Levitin, a leading researcher in music psychology, explained that this is either "because [listeners are] imagining movement or imagining watching a performer." Some people claim they can visualize the color of sounds, called synesthesia, which would also suggest a response from the visual cortex.
Because the brain has the capacity to change, music also affects some of the brain’s learning capacities, increasing the size of the auditory cortex. One of the biggest areas this can affect is memory. Music's connection to emotion inspires musical memories; it can be so effective at stimulating memories, it's sometimes used to help patients living with Alzheimer's disease and dementia grasp portions of their former selves. Remember the piano-playing scenes from The Notebook?
As powerful as simply listening to music can be, the effects of actually playing a musical instrument are even more significant.
In recent years, neuroscientists are finding that playing an instrument lights up ALL parts of the brain – including the visual, auditory, and motor areas, as well as both the left and right hemispheres. This doesn’t happen with other activities such as sports or even other art forms such as painting or dance.
Connections between the right hemisphere (responsible for creativity) and the left hemisphere (responsible for math/language skills) occur every time a musician plays music. Research suggests this improves problem-solving skills; both academically and in social situations. It also further enhances memory functions.
Playing music literally changes the structure of the brain, which is especially evident in children who practice music. Children who have received music training showed differences in the thickness of the auditory areas in the right versus the left hemisphere. In addition, children learning to play and read music showed a greater amount of the white brain matter, a sign of stronger connectivity in the corpus callosum, the area that allows communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.
More and more, neuroscientists are concluding with scientific proof something that has been suspected for a long time: music practice has a very real and very powerful effect on the human brain and development.
The Earlier You Start, the Better
While it’s clear that you can reap the benefits of music at any age, research shows that the extent of anatomical change in musicians’ brains is closely related to the age at which musical exposure began.
Those who started engaging with music (through any form of music practice or training - including instrument training or singing lessons) at the youngest age showed the largest changes when compared to non-musicians.
These changes have enormous benefits for kids – academically, socially, emotionally, and mentally.Some of these benefits include:
Increased Coordination: Kids who practice musical instruments can improve their hand-eye coordination. Just like playing sports, children can develop motor skills when playing music.
Emotional Development: Music can help kids be more emotionally developed, with empathy towards other cultures. They also tend to have higher self-esteem and are better at coping with anxiety.
Musical Training Can Teach Discipline: Kids who learn to play an instrument can learn a valuable lesson in discipline. They will have to set time aside to practice and rise to the challenge of learning with discipline to master playing their instrument.
A Sense of Achievement: Learning to sing or play new pieces of music on an instrument can be a challenging, but achievable goal. Kids who master even the smallest goal in music will be able to feel proud of their achievement.
Better Self-Confidence: With encouragement from teachers and parents, kids practicing music can build pride and confidence. Musical education is also likely to develop better communication for students.
Are You Ready to Reap the Benefits?
Whether it’s through a fun and engaging class full of rocking out to pop songs, or a crash course in ukulele to get some strumming going on, Mr. D’s Music Club has plenty of options to expand your kids’ brains with the most powerful tool there is – MUSIC!
Visit www.mrdsmusicclub.com/ for more information and upcoming programs.