The Surprising Effects of Music on the Brain
There’s something special about hearing your favorite jam pumping out of some quality speakers, but what effects does music have on the brain?
Whether it’s an orchestral masterpiece composed a hundred years ago, or a rock-n-roll classic by Queen, we know that music makes us feel something.
That something is the product of a combination of neurological processes that all take place in the brain.
As humans, we’ve been making music for thousands of years; and we’re just beginning to understand what it’s capable of. It may even be time to consider adding music to your mental fitness routine.
Without further ado, here are some of the surprising effects of music on the brain.
Happy Music Can Promote Compassion and Boost Energy
The British Academy of Sound Therapy (BAST) has been studying the beneficial effects of listening to music for therapeutic purposes for years.
One of their studies found that listening to happy music for just 9 minutes significantly boosted energy levels in almost 90% of the 7500 study participants.
We’ll reference BAST’s work several times in this article, and you can find a write-up specifically about their projects here.
More research from the University of London found that listening to happy music can make us see people’s faces in a positive light — even if they’re wearing a blank facial expression.
Exactly what processes in the brain are being influenced by happy music is still under study, but we do know that the effects are widely felt by listeners across the board.
Ambient Music Promotes Creativity and Focus
A study out of Oxford found that moderate volumes of ambient music can promote creativity.
The way this works is pretty fascinating. Moderate noise levels increase something called processing difficulty. Basically, the noise makes it slightly harder for us to process information.
That sounds like something that would hinder us rather than help.
However, an increase in processing difficulty actually promotes creativity in the brain; when we struggle to process things more than we normally would, the brain resorts to more creative approaches.
BASTs research also confirms the benefits of ambient music. They found that listening to ambient music for 13 minutes increases clarity, productivity, and confidence.
Ambient music is slower-tempo beats with no lyrics. Think classical or smooth jazz the next time you want to juice your brain during a work session.
Classical music also has the ability to improve the brain’s ability to process images.
Learning to Play Music Improves Cognitive Function and Critical Thinking
You don’t have to be a modern-day Mozart to benefit from making music.
One study found that people with 3 or more years of musical training tested higher in fine motor skills, reasoning and problem solving, analyzing visual information, and vocabulary.
Additionally, a meta-analysis of almost 30 studies suggests musicians have better memories than nonmusicians.
Music as a Tool
We’re still learning about the music and mind connection, but it’s clear that music influences the brain for the better.
As far as mental fitness goes, music can be used as a tool to relieve stress, promote feelings of well-being, inspire creativity and improve focus.
We cover this topic a little more extensively in this week’s Podcast, Using Music as a Tool.
If you’re looking to feel relaxed, BASTs research indicates that 13 minutes of calming music is the sweet spot, with over 80% of their participants experiencing benefits including improved sleep, reduced muscle tension, and less negative thoughts.
In this exercise, we combine the utility of affirmations with the power of music. The goal is to positively influence our mindset in just a few minutes. Give it a try!