You’re probably listening to music right now as you browse the web or breeze through work. Whether you are checking off your to do list, working out or brainstorming creative ideas, here is how the songs you are playing affects your brain.
I love music as much as much as anyone. Ever since kindergarten I knew that I would make it my world. As a celebrity Voice Coach and founder of The Golden Voice in Bend Oregon, I’ve always known that music could change the world but had no idea how it really affected our brains. Music is such a huge part of our lives; I wanted to share with you the ways we react to songs without even realizing it.
“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.” ~Albert Einstein
1. Music Makes You Smarter
Several studies by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, explored the effects music education on young children’s learning. The conclusions support the theory that music instruction can help build intellectual and emotional skills, facilitate children’s learning and strengthen other academic areas, such as reading and math. These studies indicate that songs can positively affect children and adults of all ages. One study (by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and the University of California) shows that when three and four-year-old children were given simple piano lessons over a six-month period, they performed 34% better than other children in IQ tests, some of whom had had computer lessons instead. These impressive results came from a study of 789 children from diverse social and economic backgrounds. In an interview, one of the researchers from the University of California said: “Musical training jump starts certain inherent patterns in parts of the brain responsible for spatial-temporal reasoning.” Computer lessons, on the other hand, do not force children to think ahead or visualize, as they must when playing a piece of music. Several studies indicate that the reading level of students with one year of music was nearly one grade higher than their peers without such music training. Children with two years of music experience had scores equivalent to two years ahead of their reading age, and these statistics improved with music experience.
Although music making you smarter is still just a theory, this other study found that taking music lessons in childhood was a significant predictor of a higher IQ in young adulthood and a history of better high school grades. For the younger children, the study found a positive association between music lessons and higher school grades and higher scores on achievement testing in mathematics, spelling and reading.
2. Music Training Can Drastically Improve Motor and Reasoning Skills
We all know that learning an instrument can be beneficial for kids, but it’s actually useful in more ways than we might think. One study showed that children who had three years or more musical instrument training performed better than those who didn’t learn an instrument in auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills. They also tested better on vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills, which involve understanding and analyzing visual information, such as identifying relationships, similarities and differences between shapes and patterns. These two areas in particular are quite removed from musical training as we imagine it, so it’s fascinating to see how learning to play an instrument can help kids develop such a wide variety of important skills.
3. Music is Medicine
Scientists are still trying to figure out medically what’s going on in our brains when we listen to songs and why certain songs can pump us up or calm us down. Daniel Levitin, a prominent psychologist who studies the neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montreal said that they are using music to better understand brain function in general. Levitin and colleagues published an analysis of 400 studies in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, suggesting that listening to music can translate into physiological benefit. But we already knew that right? Ask any parent with a screaming baby how a simple lullaby can quiet the storm. In one study Levitin reviewed, patients were randomly asked to take anti-anxiety drugs before surgery or listen to music. Scientists tracked cortisol levels (known as the stress hormone) as well as had the patients rate their anxiety. As you might have guessed, the patients who listened to songs had lower cortisol and lower anxiety than patients who took the drugs. A lot more research needs to be done before we can call music medicine scientifically but it’s a great start. “The promise here is that music is arguably less expensive than drugs, and it’s easier on the body and it doesn’t have side effects,” Levitin said. Levitin and colleagues also showcased evidence that music is associated with immunoglobin A, an antibody linked to immunity, as well as higher counts of cells that fight germs and bacteria.
4. Music Can Influence How we Interpret Peoples Moods
Happy and sad music affect how we interpret neutral facial expressions on others. Most of the time we can tell if a song is happy or sad based on the way it makes us feel. The interesting part is how our brains are affected during and after we hear the piece. This study demonstrated what is called “musical priming.” After listening to a happy or sad song participants viewed enhanced happiness or sadness of a photo of a person, regardless of facial expression. The most drastic results were on neutral faces. The result of this study was that songs produced emotions that affected how we perceived others emotions. In plain English, sad songs could make you think someone is feeling sad, or happy songs can make you think someone is feeling happy even when they are not.
5. Music Can Make You More Creative
Everyone likes to turn up the jams when you are working out or trying to power through a to-do list but when it comes to creativity; loud music isn’t the best option according to science. This study showed that a moderate level of volume is the sweet spot for being your most creative. Even more than low noise levels, ambient noise apparently gets our creative juices flowing, and doesn’t put us off the way high levels of noise do. The way it works is that medium noise levels increase your ability to process, which encourages abstract processing, leading to higher creativity. So when we struggle (just enough) to process things as we normally would, we resort to more creative approaches. In loud noise levels, however, our creative thinking is restricted because our brains are overwhelmed and can’t process information as easily. The caveat is that moderate levels of noise enhance creativity only among highly creative people. If you’re reading my blog you are probably a highly creative singer or songwriter (or the parent of a child singer) and that is why you are here.
In conclusion, since we all love music you should play it, listen to it and sing as often as you can. Take a guitar lesson, learn to sing, maybe even hire a voice coach. We create the soundtracks to our lives. If you want to perceive the world as happy, throw on some happy tunes and sing your heart out!
If you want to learn to sing, call The Golden Voice for a singing lesson in Bend Oregon or Los Angeles. Click here for some do’s and don’ts of singing.