Legendary physicist Albert Einstein, known for science, said this about music: :If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”
Music is one of the most powerful natural healers on earth since humans began to communicate. So far, the oldest discovered instruments used to make music were flutes made of bones or mammoth ivory, about 40,000 years old.
In Cincinnati later this month (September 21), there will be the Cincinnati Music & Wellness Coalition’s Music & Medicine Conference. The coalition’s website explains, “Music is a powerful influencer on an individual’s life. It brings joy, healing, helps us make new friends, have fun with old friends, and is a great promoter of wellness. Music leads to a healthy life.”
Additionally, they write that all people are musical as it is an inborn quality, and is not dependent upon being able to sing or play an instrument. Research has shown that music can improve concentration and mood.
Music therapist Jennifer Buchanan, BMT, MTA, founder of JB Music, writes that music is a chance for her to “step away from the isolation. A chance to experience something meaningful.” She likens music to “auditory nutrition.”
Listening to your favorite tunes feels dramatically different than listening to music you can’t stand – and research has actually mapped this difference. To study how music preferences might affect functional brain connectivity researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which shows brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow. The researchers scanned the brains of 21 participants while they listened to music they said they most liked and disliked from among five genres (classical, country, rap, rock and Chinese opera) and to a song or piece of music they had previously named as their personal favorite.
The fMRI scans showed a consistent pattern: The listeners' preferences, not the type of music they were listening to, had the greatest impact on brain connectivity -- especially on a brain circuit -- default mode network -- known to be involved in internally focused thought, empathy and self-awareness. This circuit was poorly connected when the participants were listening to the music they disliked, better connected when listening to the music they liked and the most connected when listening to their favorites. In other words, playing your favorite music is good for your emotional well-being.
"Music isn't going to cure anything, but it definitely can play a therapeutic role," said neuroradiologist Jonathan Burdette, MD. "If you're trying to restore neuroplasticity in the brain, to re-establish some of the connections that were there before the injury, music can be a big help.”
In another somewhat related study, researchers have revealed the type of neural mechanisms serving as the basis for emotional responses to music. In the study, 102 participates listened to music that evokes emotions while their brain function was scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The scientists were able to accurately predict whether the subject was listening to sad music (minor chords) happy music (major chords) based on the activation of the auditory and motor cortex, which processes the acoustic elements of music, such as rhythm and melody.
Another study found that listening to music engages both the auditory areas of the brain as well as large-scale neural networks. Additionally, the researchers in this study for the first time discovered that the processing of musical pulse engages motor areas in the brain, supporting the concept that music and movement are closely intertwined. Specifically, limbic areas of the brain, known to be associated with emotions, were also found to be involved in rhythm and tonality processing. Processing of timbre (sound color) was linked to activations in the default mode network, which is also believed to be associated with mind-wandering and creativity.
Music can help improve workouts and the experience of physical fitness activities. In one study, researchers found that certain music can significantly increase physical endurance and make the experience of cardiovascular exercise far more positive. The study directed 30 participants to exercise on a treadmill while listening to a selection of motivational rock or pop music and to keep in strict time with each song’s beat.
The findings show that listening to upbeat music enhanced endurance by 15% and improved the ‘feeling states’ of participants, helping them to derive greater pleasure from exercise.
Music can also assist in recovery from surgery, according to one comprehensive review that included data from 72 trials involving nearly 7,000 individuals post-surgery. The researchers found that listening to music before, during, or after a surgical procedure is beneficial to patients and can significantly reduce pain and anxiety, and decrease the need for pain medication.
Interestingly, newer research suggests that daily music sessions (30 minutes a day) was found to markedly reduce anxiety and discomfort in individuals who had a cardiac event. In this long-term study of 350 subjects who have experienced an adverse cardiovascular event, half were assigned to regular music sessions in addition to standard care, while the other half had no music and just standard care.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that at the end of seven years, music therapy was found to be more effective than standard treatment alone in terms of reducing anxiety, pain sensation and pain distress. The subjects in the music therapy group had anxiety scores one-third lower than those on standard treatment alone.
The researchers of this study believe listening to music may help counteract the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which generates the “fight or flight” response during stressful situations (such as a cardiac event).
Learning music allows for exceptional mental flexibility among children. One research team found that music lessons improve children's cognitive abilities and scholastic performance; cognitive skills developed from music lessons appear to transfer to unrelated subjects, leading to improved academic performance. Areas of improvement seen were in language-based reasoning, short-term memory, planning and inhibition -- leading to improved academic performance. The authors write, "Children who received music lessons showed improved language-based reasoning and the ability to plan, organize and complete tasks, as well as improved academic achievement. This suggests that the cognitive skills developed during music lessons can influence children's cognitive abilities in completely unrelated subjects, leading to overall improved academic performance.”
In a previous study, researchers found that children who received at least three years of instrumental music training outperformed their control counterparts on two outcomes closely related to music (auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills) and on two outcomes distantly related to music (vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills).
You always knew that listening to your favorite music just made your immediate world a much better place. Now you know why! So take advantage of the wonderful world of music. And it’s ok to sing or rap along even if couldn’t pass an audition!