How Does Music Affect Your Brain?

people at rock concert

Throw on some headphones, crank up the tunes, and what happens? Your toes and fingers start to tap. Maybe your head and shoulders begin to bob. Pretty soon, you might be on your feet, busting a move, joyously belting out the lyrics. Music has taken over, and your body is now along for the ride.

While it may be obvious that music impacts you physically, understanding how music and the brain interact requires deep study and an ability to probe the mysteries of the human mind. The result is a fascinating picture of the role music can play in brain development, learning, mood, and even your health.

Music, Your Brain, & Wellbeing

person looking through music records

One of the first things that happens when music enters our brains is the triggering of pleasure centers that release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy. This response is so quick, the brain can even anticipate the most pleasurable peaks in familiar music and prime itself with an early dopamine rush.

Beyond simply making you feel good, however, there's evidence that music can even be good for your health. Research has shown that listening to music is associated with upticks in immunity-boosting antibodies and cells that protect against bacteria and other invaders. Music has also proven to be effective across a variety of treatment scenarios for conditions ranging from premature birth to depression to Parkinson's disease.

Even in terms of brain development, music can play a key role. Training to play an instrument, for instance, is believed to increase gray matter volume in certain areas of the brain, not unlike how physical exercise can tone and enlarge muscles. As a result, musicians often experience improvement in brain functions like:

  • Auditory processing
  • Learning
  • Memory

If you're ready to learn how to play a new instrument at home, start by finding a new or used instrument that interests you. Check sites like Craigslist or head over to your local thrift shop or instrument store to find options like pianos, flutes, guitars, banjos, and more. Then, look up free tutorial videos online to start learning. Some great online resources available to teach you how to play the instrument of your choice include:

Does Genre Matter?

rock band lead singer

Many of the beneficial effects of music on the brain are not limited to any single genre. Whether you're listening to the smooth jazz styling of Billie Holiday on vinyl, the classic country sounds of Johnny Cash on YouTube, or The Beatles and their powerful British Invasion rock music on Spotify, different styles can produce the same results – as long as they align with your musical preferences. In this way, it's the brain's relationship with familiar and favored music that is key.

In other cases, the style of music can play a role. When it comes to the best music for learning, for example, experts recommend different genres for different purposes. Upbeat music, including songs with positive lyrics, can provide an energy boost and get your brain primed for learning. Once it's time to buckle down and concentrate, however –  like when you need to read, write, or study your course materials, instrumental music and soothing genres can help you stay calm and focused. Ultimately, however, each person may develop an approach to studying and music that's uniquely suited for them.

Some places you may be able to find new music include:

  • Spotify
  • Pandora
  • YouTube
  • MoodFuse
  • SoundCloud

If you'd prefer to study to gentle or ambient sounds instead, download apps like Rainy Mood or A Soft Murmur to help you focus.

Experiencing New Music

hands playing the piano

There are other ways you can learn about new music without plugging in your headphones. Take part in any of the following activities to explore different types of music:

  • Go to open mic nights in your community
  • Attend local concerts in your area
  • Ask your friends and family for music recommendations on your social media and have them share their favorite songs, playlists, or genres
  • Use different tools like Pandora, Spotify, MoodFuse, to find new music
  • Use apps like Shazam to help you remember the music you hear while you're out, so you can go home and download it later

Whether you play an instrument, listen to your music streaming app, or enjoy going to live concerts, music is having an active influence on your brain. Understanding how music and the mind interact, and how to fine-tune your music consumption for maximum impact, can have an effect on the way you feel, think, study and more. So, put in your headphones, start your favorite album, and feel your dopamine levels rising.

 

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Written by Ashford University staff.

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