Does Music Have Any Effects On The Brain?

Music can have a very strong influence; is it strong enough to affect your brain? Music is an art of sound that expresses ideas and emotions through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and colour. The power and influence of music on individuals is a psychological process involving the human ears, body, brain, and nervous system. Besides its pleasing effects to the ears, it has been established that music can have an influence on our emotional state of being. People listen to music for different reasons and at different times. In recent years, however, a question has been raised with regards to music and its effects on the brain: Does listening to music help improve our physical and mental abilities?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (the most popular American Poet in the 19th century, 1807-1882) wrote ‘Music is the universal language of mankind’. It brings us together as a society and unites people of different cultural backgrounds. It is a very important element which can be used for many purposes such as entertainment, sleeping aid, pain relief, relaxation tool, eliminate stress, emotional purposes, provide means of self-expression, aid develop the skills necessary at workplace, home or general environment and so much more. It is also used for special occasions such as funerals, weddings, graduations, soldiers marching off to war, sporting events, prayer, romantic dinners and parties.

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Music is mostly used in these types of events because it has the influence to change our atmosphere and provide us with a sense of pleasure, comfort and happiness. It also enhances teamwork skills and discipline in churches and in bands where all team members’ involvement and participation is required to produce a good song. Research shows that certain types of music such as classical music, yoga music or nature music creates a calming effect on us which helps reduce our heart rate. This may enable us conquer anxiety and gain self confidence. Music can help us communicate with each other when languages are different. Before the invention of mails and telephones, certain tribes use to contact each other with drumbeats. Sound travels at about 350 meters per second in dry air at 20 ‘C (68 ‘F) and this was quicker and efficient in getting a message across to each other in the Ancient times which required some skills and knowledge. There was a sender and a receiver who would interpret the message to the Leader of the village. This was mostly practised in Africa and Asia and is still practised in some parts of the world. The drawbacks were messages could be interpreted wrongly by the receiver or conveyed wrongly by the sender which caused inconvenience.

There are many uses and benefits of music which are yet to be discovered. In recent years, scientists have been astonished by the effects music has on children. Babies are mostly lulled to sleep with lullabies due to its known calming effects on the brain and body. Experiment has proven that introducing toddlers to good music genres such as classical at an early age enables them become more creative, increase their level of imagination and their ability to obtain and develop different skills in later life. During childhood we are all expected to learn nursery rhymes reason being music is known to be a kick-start to learning and known to offer long life benefits. Also as individuals we all need diversity in our lives to broaden our knowledge and develop strong relationships in life. On Sunday, 21 February 2010, one of the major British newspapers The Guardian, which has a certified average daily circulation of 358,844 copies, published an article on music and its power to shape a child’s mind. (Source: article discusses some of the profound effects of music on the nervous system and encourages schools to make it a core subject. ‘Schools which fail to make music a core subject are making a mistake, because it has advantages for the growing brain and would help all children, including those with dyslexia and autism, neuroscientist Professor Nina Kraus said’. Professor Kraus’s team at North-western University in Chicago, Illinois, have shown that the nervous system responds to the acoustic properties of speech and music with sub-millisecond precision. The effectiveness with which the nervous system interprets sound patterns is linked to musical ability.

Scientists have been amazed by some of effects of music can be have individuals. This has led to the establishment of a field of health care known as Music Therapy. Therapists use the benefits and positive effects of music to improve and maintain their patient’s emotional, physical, aesthetic, mental, social, and spiritual well being. Those who practice music therapy are finding it very useful and effective which enables them live a normal life. It is used to help patients with cancer, neurodevelopment disorders such as dementia, children with ADD and autism. A National Autistic Society spokeswoman explained how many children with autism respond well to music. It helps children in communication and interaction. It also creates a calming effect on the patients which enables them express some level of emotion. This has resulted in many patients overcoming certain illnesses. Hospitals are also beginning to use music and music therapy to help with pain management. In some hospital theatres such as Bay Medical Center located in both Northeast Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (America), music is used to help ward off patients depression and ease muscle tension. Many patients reacted positively to especially classical music as it generated a comforting environment and calmed patients which enabled doctor’s progress during operations.

However, it could be argued that music can be an addiction and if not constantly played to these patients could cause further depression in some cases.

Scientist have conducted further research and found that music with a strong beat can stimulate brainwaves to resonate in sync with the beat, with faster beats bringing sharper concentration and more alert thinking to the listener. Slower music genre such as classical helps promote a relaxed and meditative state (source: ).

Over the years scientist have been looking at some other benefits music can offer. Athletes such as cyclist and marathon runners are known to find music very useful during training sessions. Most of these athletes consider music as a motivation and a relaxation tool which helps prepare the body and mind for a lengthy workout. There are believes that fast music can help athletes train faster and better during training, leading to a good workout. To determine the actual effects of music on the performance of athletes, Scientists at St. Scholastica College in Duluth, Minnesota conducted a test with six men and five women on a 15 minute treadmill at 5.5 mile per hour on each runner. The runners were categorised into a group of three. Group1 and 2 consisted of two males and two females and group 3 consisted of two males and one female. Group 1 were made to listen to a fast pace beat, group 2 were made to listen a slow beat and group 3 listened to no music. This was observed for 15 minutes and in the study, it was discovered that group 1 burned 10 extra calories over 15 minutes, an extra 40 calories per hour. This may seem a small gain but if practised constantly over just three hours a week, you may be capable of burning an extra 2 pounds of fat in the course of a year. This will help towards the individual’s stamina and be of great advantage to his/her mental health. This research also suggested that music if combined with appropriate imagery can have either a calming effect on the individual during physical training which helps improve the cardiovascular system by maintaining adequate circulation of oxygenated blood around the vascular network of the body. However, there is no firm evidence that suggest that the tranquilising effects of music can promote better performances when athletes listen to the music before performing. The research, however, implies that listening to music during training sessions can certainly improve workout quality. (‘Effect of Up-Beat Music on Endurance Performance, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, volume 27(5), Supplement, #853, p. S151, 1995 and ‘ The Impact of Music and Imagery on Physical Performance and Arousal: Studies of Coordination and Endurance, ‘ Journal of Sport Behaviour, volume 15(1), pages. 21-33, 1992)

Music is mostly divided into genres and subgenres. Some of the main genres are Rock/Pop, Jazz, Hip hop, World, Nostalgia, Blues, Country, Easy Listening, Folk, Ethnic, Metal and other subgenres.

Classical music is one of the oldest genres encircling a broad era from roughly 1750’s to date (source: ). It has inspired and influenced other genres such as hip hop and R&B. It is accepted by nearly every generation ever since its establishment. Researchers have come across some rather amazing benefits of classical music. It holds one of the largest listeners due to its calming effects which aid the mind and its ability to inspire its listeners. Amongst the results it was found that classical music has the ability to reduce crime. British Transport Police supplied classical music into London Underground stations in 2004 in some of the area’s most dangerous neighbourhoods. After playing the music for six months, robberies were cut by 33 percent, staff assaults decreased by 25 percent and vandalism went down 37 percent.

This was not the first time classical music had been used in preventing crime. In 2001, police in West Palm Beach, Florida installed a CD player and speakers on an abandoned building in a crime-ridden neighbourhood. After playing classical music mostly Mozart, Bach and Beethoven 24 hours a day for about three months, shootings, thefts, loiterers and drug deals decreased. (Source: )

It was also discovered that if you walk into a store that’s playing classical music you are likely to spend more. It is used as an instrument to get you to purchase more items, as consumer advocate and columnist Brian Vaszily entertainingly explains in How Stores are secretly using music to lure their customers. “Music can help shape customers’ time perception, lower sales resistance and increase willingness to spend,” says James Kellaris, a marketing professor at the University of Cincinnati. The complexity of classical music makes your brain work harder, causing it to overcompensate and make you feel like you’ve been in the store for less time than you actually have. Meanwhile, the music can make it more difficult for shoppers to use critical thinking in deciding whether to buy a product. The end result is spending more time in the store, buying more, and spending more money. (Source:

All these events reveal that music can control our brains and has the capability to change our live style and behavioural patterns.

Scientists wanted to prove scientifically how listening to a song helps develop the brain. Several experiments were conducted to find out which side of the brain is activated and improved when we listen to music. Mozart’s music and baroque music, with a 60 beats per minute beat pattern, activates the left and right brain. The simultaneous left and right brain action maximizes learning and retention of information. Reading activates the left brain while the music activates the right brain. Also, activities which engage both sides of the brain at the same time, such as playing an instrument or singing, causes the brain to be more capable of processing information.

According to The Center for New Discoveries in Learning, learning potential can be increased a minimum of five times by using this 60 beats per minute music. For example, the ancient Greeks sang their dramas because they understood how music could help them remember more easily. A renowned Bulgarian psychologist, Dr. George Lozanov, designed a way to teach foreign languages in a fraction of the normal learning time. Using his system, students could learn up to one half of the vocabulary and phrases for the whole school term (which amounts to almost 1,000 words or phrases) in one day. Along with this, the average retention rate of his students was 92%. Dr. Lozanov’s system involved using certain classical music pieces from the baroque period which have around a 60 beats per minute pattern. He has proven that foreign languages can be learned with 85-100% efficiency in only thirty days by using these baroque pieces. His students had a recall accuracy rate of almost 100% even after not reviewing the material for four years.

Music has also been used by Doctors to heal the human mind and also cure diseases. It has been used as a means of overcoming depression and reducing chronic pain. Music can be described as a tool used to capture and transmit emotions. One of the advantages of music is its ability to achieve more than one objective at a time. Elevating music can divert the mind and revive the soul. Sad and soulful music can offer solace, encourage and support psychological work and set free emotions. When exposed to the world’s dilemmas, some depend on drugs and others relate to music to help overcome these obstacles. Some of these dilemmas can lead to Depression which reduces the activities that occur in our brains and obstructs the mind’s capability to arrange and carry out responsibilities. The lack of the neurotransmitter and Serotonin leads to a depressed state of mind. It has been discovered by scientist that listening to music could help reduce chronic pain and depression by a quarter ( People react to music in different ways. Singing and dancing to your favourite music is known to help increase the flow of serotonin in the brain by bringing about pleasure and excitement to the individual.

I was greatly astonished by some of the experiments and discoveries mostly carried out by scientists, therapist and authors involving this topic. This influenced me to create a questionnaire to discover how music influences its listeners and what music genre generates the most effects.

This is a summary table of the research questionnaire I created and handed out to a sample audience of fifty. To obtain varied and reliable results I decided on a 50 percent male audience and 50 percent female.

i.e. Every bar in this graph is out of a 100%. This is because I designed my questionnaire so people could tick many answers for a particular question. I then counted the number of people who listened to music for entertainment purposes out of number of audience I have and multiplied it by 100%. This enabled me convert all my figures into percentage.

I decided on a 50 sample audience as it is large enough to obtain varied results, to help structure my graph and in order not to obtain decimal figures when converting to percentage. This was prepared to achieve reliable results. The data also indicates that 46 (92%) of the sample audience listen to more than 1 type of music. This proves that music is universal and its effects are not limited to one genre of music.

As seen in the graph 82% of my sample audience listened to music for entertainment purposes. This proves that music provides stimulation and entertainment at the most fundamental level. 60% of my sample audience listened to music to help eliminate stress. This shows that music helps takes your mind temporally away from problems and it has the effect of eliminating tension from the mind. 30% of my audience listen to music for emotional purposes. This proves that music can help provide solace to its listeners. Four of my sample audience listened to music whilst studying and two suggested it helped improve their grades at school. Finally one person suggested it helped them gain confidence. My questionnaire also generated a link between music for entertainment purposes and stress elevation. Majority of my sample audience who listened to music for entertainment purposes also suggested it helped in eliminating stress.

As shown in figure 2 above, modern music genres such as Hip hop and Rock/Pop is the most listened to probably due to its relatable lyrics.

An analysis of the data by age groups also shows that 71% of the under 18’s age group listen to music for entertainment purposes. 91% of the 18-21 age group that is 10 out of 11 people also listened to music for entertainment purposes. Of the 22 years and above age group, 17 out of 31 representing 55% listened to music to help eliminate stress.

An analysis on gender shows that out of 25 females the influence of music is high amongst 5 representing 20% of the sample audience, 6 of them (25%) found the influence of music to be low. However, majority of them that is 12 (48%) indicated the effects of music to be medium.

Out of 25 people in the male group, 5 representing 20% found the effects of music to be high and 12 representing 48% found it to be medium. This shows that music on an average has a medium effect on both male and female.

Of the unemployed group of 4, three indicated the effects of music to be low. This may suggest that they need more than just music to entertain them and relieve stress.

Writers mostly consisting of neurologist have published several books on the subject of music and its effects on the brain. Musicophilia is a highly recommended book, a New York Times bestseller. Written by Oliver Sacks (Author) and published by Picador on the 2nd of November 2007. It has been awarded one of the Best Books of 2007 by the Washington Post and the editors of According to Oliver Sacks, ‘Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing. But the power of music occupies more areas of our brain than language does ‘ humans are a musical species’.

In this book Oliver Sacks’ tells interesting tales of individuals affected with the worse case of neurological conditions but are perfectly capable of memorising and composing songs on the piano. This has in effect changed the way we view the human brain. In Musicophilia, he cautiously explores the influence of music through the individual experiences of patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s or amnesia, stroke and many more. It also involves musicians, performers and normal individuals who have been greatly affected by music. There are also scenarios of people struck by lightning and are suddenly motivated to become pianist, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome who are hyper musical right from birth.

Oliver Sacks scientifically explains why music is at times haunting, memorable and irresistible. ‘The extraordinary neural robustness of music is also brought out in the following letter I was sent, about a well-known pianist’. The pianist is now 88 and has lost language but he plays every day. When the Mozart is read, he points back and ahead well in advance of the repeats. Two years ago he recorded a complete four-hand repertoire of Mozart that he had recorded in the 1950s (Page 336). ‘Whiles his language has began to fail him, I love his recent playing and conception even more than the earlier recording’ a colleague stated.

Another letter was written to Oliver by one man briefly explaining how his wife was diagnosed with a brain disorder but still plays the piano on a daily basis. ‘Although my wife has Alzheimer’s ‘ diagnosed at least seven years ago-the essential person miraculously remains’She plays piano several hours daily, very well. Her present ambition is to memorize the Schumann A-minor Piano Concerto’ (Page 337). Alzheimer’s is a progressive and fatal brain disease. Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells, causing memory loss and problems with thinking and behaviour severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life. Alzheimer’s gets worse over time, and it is fatal. Today it is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases. And yet this woman who is, in most other spheres, grossly forgetful and disabled memorises plays full songs on the piano.

Music can survive the most devastating brain damage. A herpes infection left Clive Wearing, a musicologist and musician, with a memory span of no more than a few seconds. His entire life form was overturned. But, confronted with a piece of music, he would first insist he had never played it before and then play it flawlessly. The process of making the music overcame his handicap. His wife wrote to Sacks of ‘Clive’s at-homeness in music . . . where he transcends amnesia and finds continuum’. Or there is the case of Tony Cicoria, a man struck by lightning in a telephone box. A few weeks later, he was overcome by an ‘insatiable desire to listen to piano music’. He bought CDs and sheet music and began to resurrect his childhood piano lessons. Then, involuntarily, he began to compose music in his head. A torrent of notes came, he said, ‘from heaven’. Cicoria now lives in music.

Oliver Sacks concentrates on stories written or told by the victim or the victim’s relative rather than theory; he does not come to a definite conclusion about music in his book but our intuition is reinforced by elaborate analysis of particular situations.

Music genres such as hip hop, rock and pop has been known to help promote crime. Violence, racism, homophobic behaviours or sexist lyrics in much of today’s popular music could have an impact on impressionable young people who are just developing a sense. Numerous studies indicate that a preference for heavy metal music may be a significant marker for alienation, substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, suicide risk, sex-role stereotyping or risk-taking behaviours during adolescence. (Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, 1999)

In conclusion music is a very powerful tool that creates a connection to the human soul, body and mind. As shown in my work music is used to entertain, as therapy in hospitals to relieve stress, help in communication, express emotions, enhance concentration and maintain alertness and vigilance. It is also used in stores to promote sales and to motivate the workers.

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