If you’ve ever had any involvement with preschools–whether as a teacher, a parent, or even if you can reach back all those years to your own preschool experience–you’ve probably realized just how big a role music plays in the classroom. From greeting children in the mornings and sending them off in the afternoons, to signaling transitions, to easing them into nap time, to teaching them new skills and concepts like the ABCs and rhyming, music is everywhere and vitally important in early childhood development.
We’ve written a lot about music’s beneficial effects on the mind and its value in the classroom. In “Music & Math,” we discussed music’s impact on pattern recognition, executive functioning, and on the cultivation of discipline. In “Music as Panacea,” we elucidated all the ways music can help children with special needs–and those without!–from encouraging children to focus, let go of stress, regulate their emotions, connect with others and unleash their creativity. Given all these benefits, it makes sense that music would be especially valuable in the early childhood classroom. At that young age, children are just gaining these life skills and are therefore most receptive to music’s benefits: Scholastic cites Dr. Susan Barry, a neurobiologist at Mt. Holyoke, who says, “Music molds the mind…Making music actively engages the brain’s synapses. As young children participate in music-based activities, their muscles, senses, and intellect are engaged simultaneously; they are exercising their brains in ways they rarely do. Long-term musical training actually re-organizes the brain.”
You’re likely acquainted with the concept of babies’ and young children’s brains being more capable of learning two languages at the same time than adults’. This is because the brains of infants who grow up in bilingual households are specialized to process the sounds of two languages, whereas those who grow up in monolingual households are specialized to process the sounds of only one language. That second language is getting in there early and actually changing the way the brain develops. This is just like music! Teaching children music and surrounding them with it from an early age actually changes the way their brains form and ensures that they develop with a greater aptitude for more advanced and refined physical, social, mental and emotional skills.
Some preschool teachers may worry that they don’t have the musical ability or training to lead kids in music-based activities. Perhaps they can’t carry a tune or don’t remember any children’s songs. Scholastic has a number of tips for those who feel challenged, including building your own Youtube library of favorite songs, making up songs and not worrying about the tune, and experimenting with different “instruments,” feet and hands being more than acceptable examples.
Ultimately, it’s not about how good a musician or singer you are; it’s about engaging children in interactive activities, joining together in fun learning exercises and connecting across generations, backgrounds and skill sets. It is in fact possible to sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” even with a tin ear and if you do it with confidence and a sense of play, you’ll provide a positive, joyful model of relating to the world and oneself as well as to academic material.
You’ve signed your child up for regular piano (or bass, guitar, voice or any other type of music) lessons. Congratulations! They are already on their way to enjoying so many of the benefits of learning a musical instrument. But it doesn’t stop there. In order to reap these benefits, your child will have to practice. A regular practice routine can take a while to get into–especially for young beginners. Don’t be discouraged if they’re not practicing right away, but constant encouragement and coaxing will go a long way in helping to establish a routine. And this formal practice routine develops discipline as well as comfort: When you are better at something, which practice will inevitably make you, you are more likely to do it.
While Malcolm Gladwell’s famous “10,000-hour Rule” is a little more complicated than the way it was interpreted when it was first coined (Frans Johansson argues in his book, The Click Moment, that deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures–e.g. chess and music [but since we’re still talking about music, it holds!]), it is pretty irrefutable that if you do something more, you get better at it.
But effective practice is even more important: if you have no set schedule around your practice–no regularity–you have no agenda for what to do during the practice time, and no quantifiable goals, you are not going to get very much out of practice at all. Here are a few things to remember when setting yourself or your child up for effective practice:
Help your child create and stick to a manageable schedule for practicing: does spending time after their music lesson make sense since they’re already in the mode? Does practicing on the weekends strip it of stress and inject some fun into it? Whatever the time of day or day of the week, make sure they come up with a practice schedule they can stick to.
Make sure your child setsgoals for their practice sessions; these goals may change over the course of a semester and certainly a year, and even a practice session–and should!–but they should be absolutely clear and achievable and should not change within the amount of time you’ve allotted for each. Do they want to be able to play their favorite song? Learn how to read music better? Master scales? Whatever it is, a student’s practice should be in support of these goals. An entry in NPR’s The Young Person’s Guide to Making Music series cites violinist Ren Martin-Doike, who says that when she is practicing, she “may decide to devote my first practice block to warming up, my second block to working on isolating difficult passages from a concerto, my third to putting fingerings in my orchestra part, my fourth to studying a new chamber work and spend my last block on playing through or stitching together the various smaller sections I worked on earlier in the day. By having a plan, I am able to maximize my time, juggle lots of different music and prevent aimless practicing or mindless playing through.” This also means that if a student is feeling overwhelmed with how much they need to get better at in order to be “good,” you should help them focus on one thing at a time. No one ever sat down to the piano and played a Rachmaninoff concerto right away: practice takes time.
That brings us to one of the most important things to do when practicing: Get used to making mistakes. If your child is so concerned with everything being perfect, they will not accept all the missteps and yes, failures, that are actually part of mastering something and they are more likely to give up. Encourage them to accept and celebrate mistakes rather than punish themselves.
Practice will change as students progress and get older: for the very young beginner, parents will have to be very involved, perhaps promising some kind of achievement-based rewards and definitely sitting with their child throughout the practice (which, at that stage, could be as little as 10 focused minutes). But as a child progresses and gets older, parents should turn over more and more of that responsibility over to their child, encouraging them to self-motivate and self-discipline.
And don’t be discouraged! While it took more than 76 famous classical composers at least 10 years to create their greatest work, it could take you less than 5 hours to master playing “Ode to Joy” and feel real good about it.
According to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the US, although some studies suggest it may even come in third. The Centers for Disease Control ranked Parkinson’s the fourteenth cause of death. And dementia more broadly and other neuro-degenerative diseases affect more than 4.5 million people in the US alone, and a 2013 report estimated that it has affected more than 35 million worldwide. You might be wondering what this has to do with music. Well, while there are no cures per say for dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, there are definitely preventative measures that can be taken as well as techniques and therapies that can improve the quality of life for someone suffering from these diseases and even slow the advancement of the disease.
Here’s where music comes in: multiple studies have suggested that music therapy can reduce cognitive decline, especially when started as early as possible. But there are different ways that music and music therapy can be incorporated into a patient’s life and treatment and each has slightly different effects.
Listening to music, for example, can slow the decrease of cognitive abilities for patients with mild cases of Alzheimer’s and some music can cause a “stabilization or improvement in self-consciousness of AD [Alzheimer’s Disease] in mild or moderate stage.” Interestingly, researchers have found that the more familiar a patient is with the piece of music, the greater the results. Singing songs is also a great way to help patients retain and recall memories, as well as reduce neuropsychiatric symptoms. And strangely enough, “sad” music–especially in karaoke style!–has been shown to be most effective for the recall of autobiographical experiences in dementia patients. In fact, music paired with another activity of many different kinds–singing as well as dancing, rhythmic movements, and playing instruments, e.g.–yielded more improvements in terms of cognitive status, in comparison to just listening to music alone without doing an activity. Music also helps patients remember things in the present–not just call up long-buried memories: when verbal content or text is accompanied with rhythm, percussion, or even when it is sung, the patient is more likely to remember it: Researchers found that music could “enhance the brain encoding capacity of verbal information compared with spoken.”
How does music do all this? According to the American Music Therapy Association, “Music is a form of sensory stimulation, which provokes responses due to the familiarity, predictability, and feelings of security associated with it.” Listening to music “can help to hold our attention, evoke emotions, and stimulate visual images.” All of this aids in the calling up of memories and explains why sad songs, which perhaps call up particularly strong emotions, are even more effective for memory recall.
Of course, as stated above, music therapy is not a cure for dementia, AD or parkinson’s. Many of the results enumerated in the studies cited here were slight and/or measured over long periods of time. There also needs to be more studies and scientific research done to fully understand the effects and mechanisms of music on neurodegenerative disease patients. However, because music has no side effects, is safe and easy to practice, it is a treatment worth pursuing. And even putting aside the considerable cognitive improvements it most likely promotes, as we know from many of my other posts (“Music as Panacea,” “Music as Medicine,” and “Music Education for Children with Special Needs,” for example), music has the incredible ability to reduce stress and anxiety as well as improve mood and outlook.
Linda Maguire, the author of a study on singing and brain activity, wrote, “Musical aptitude and music appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s.” Through music, you can communicate through and beyond the disease.
Daniel Levitin, author of This is Your Brain on Music, declares that music is woven into the fabric of society, and that any time humans come together for any reason, music is there. “Understanding why we like music and what draws us to it,” he writes, “is therefore a window on the essence of human nature…” In other words, music and humankind are inseparable.
Music is old. Like, really old. Some even argue that music predates language. It certainly predates literacy: people were creating music before they created writing, a different system allowing people to express ideas. Thought of this way, as a vehicle for expressing ideas and emotions, it’s easy to see how music could have such a profound impact on almost every facet of human society.
Let’s take a brief look at the many different disciplines, arenas and facets of human society that music affects:
Education: We’ve discussed music’s relationship to learning in-depth in “Music & Math,” “When Words Fail: Music Education for Special Needs Children,” “Your Child’s Brain on Music” and “Your Brain on Music.” While there is no proof of direct causation between music and intellect, there is no question that music helps you learn, strengthening your executive functioning, memory, pattern-recognition, fine motor skills, concentration and discipline–all important cognitive or physical skills that are required for learning non-music-related topics as well. Government has recognized the importance of music in education and human development, too, passing the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. The Act was passed in part due to the advocacy of the National Association for Music Education, and stipulates that music should be a part of every child’s education, regardless of personal circumstance.
Besides the incredible links between the effects of music on the brain and how these support learning other subjects, music provides important other benefits such as stress-reduction and entertainment and it facilitates communication and bonding–all quality-of-life enhancers, and therefore instrumental in making students more open to learning.
Stress Reduction: There is a reason that music is played during many yoga classes and massage sessions; that you like to sit down with a glass of wine or a mug of tea and enjoy Bach’s Cello Suites after a long workday; that many people feel they need to walk around the city with their headphones in, listening to their favorite songs. Music calms you! In his research, Levitin found that “listening to and playing music increase the body’s production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells–the cells that attack invading viruses and boost the immune system’s effectiveness.” They also showed that music reduces cortisol levels–the stress hormone. This is why music is now being put to use in operating rooms, hospice care facilities, nursing homes, and many other facilities in order to calm psychological stress and even physiological symptoms.
Entertainment: Of course, for many of you, this might have been the first thing you thought of when it comes to uses of music. In an interview in ThoughtEconomics, the musician Moby articulates the enigma of music as an art form: “One of the really fascinating things about music is that technically…it doesn’t exist. A painting, a sculpture or a photograph can physically exist, while music is just air hitting the eardrum in a slightly different way than it would randomly…Somehow that air…when moved and when made to hit the eardrum in tiny subtle ways–can make people dance, cry, have sex, move across country, go to war and more.” And “that air” is not only enjoyed as entertainment by itself, it is a crucial component of other forms of entertainment: you’d be hard-pressed to find a single movie that doesn’t contain any music; there is of course musical theater, but also non-musicals that still incorporate music; even dry-as-can-be radio shows on platforms such as NPR incorporate music to signal transitions or indicate the tone of a certain segment; the list goes on. It is clear: music is entertaining and it also enhances other entertainment.
Communication: In an interview included in Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the documentary on Mr. Rogers, Fred Rogers says, “Music was my first language…I could literally laugh or cry or be very angry through the end of my fingers.” Music can communicate emotions and ideas that literally cannot be communicated via language. An article in English Magazine uses birdsong to demonstrate this concept: birds, who cannot “talk”–at least in the way humans talk with words and tongues and teeth–use specific notes and rhythms to communicate different things such as mating or courtship calls. And some cultures still use music to communicate across vast distances. A more immediate example might be how music is being used to help children with Asperger’s, who may have very limited language abilities, express themselves. Beyond what a piece of music itself can communicate to a listener, there is also the communication that happens when people create or listen to music together: positive peer interaction and open and giving attitudes are required for creating music with others, and even for listening with others–at a concert or a small gathering at home; these sensibilities all communicate a desire to share a human experience and to connect.
Whether in the hospital, public school, concert hall, Broadway, or the privacy of your own home, music is essential to the human experience.
As many of our other blog posts have shown, there is something truly magical about music: whether you are creating it, listening to it, dancing to it or simply playing it in the background while you’re doing other things, music activates your brain, forcing you to focus, make connections, let go of stress, regulate your emotions, connect with others, and unleash your creativity, among tens of other benefits. In fact, music is so magical that it has been used as a therapeutic intervention in children and adults with a range of developmental, cognitive, physical, emotional or behavioral issues for many years and has been shown to have real results. But the kid in you that honked on a recorder and never managed to get the fingering on the viola in 6th grade may still be wondering, why music and how does it work?
It may seem like music therapy is a new, trendy approach in education. In fact, the only new thing about it is that educators, administrators and healthcare professionals are finally recognizing and accepting its value and instituting official music therapy programs in public schools, hospitals, nursing homes and many other settings. Civilizations as ancient as the Greeks were using music as a way of settling the “humors” and uniting the body, soul and mind. And beyond the limited and slow-evolving world view of the West–or the “first world”–as Peregrine Horden, the author of Music as Medicine terms it–indigenous, African, and Eastern cultures have long recognized the healing power of sound and have employed music and dance in healing ceremonies for centuries.
Music therapy really got under way and came to be respected as a legitimate health practice, however, after the two world wars, in which musicians were sent out to veterans’ hospitals to play music for the wounded–and, as we now know, PTSD-afflicted–soldiers. Today, there are music therapy Master’s and Phd programs as well as dedicated music therapy units in hospitals and palliative care facilities; it was one of the main rehabilitation efforts following Rep. Gabby Giffords’ gunshot injury (and allowed her to sing before she could speak again!); and music therapy is now recognized by the New York State Education Department as a related service under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), meaning that it is a provided service for students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) via their schools’ special education departments.
Okay, so the history is there, but why music? All of the arts are unique and extraordinary, but music is special in that it is universal: everyone–even babies, who might not be able to identify drawings or understand speech yet–responds to music. The visual arts can unleash your creativity and imagination, but lack structure; theater and literature, too, develop your imagination and, if practicing either one of them, confidence, but their benefits are limited to subjects of a certain age, language, culture and education level. Music, on the other hand, is a “universal language,” as The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) puts it, that “crosses all cultural lines and occurs naturally in our environment”: “Music provides a predictable time-oriented and reality-oriented structure while offering opportunities for participation at one’s own level of functioning and ability. Not only may music activities be opportunities for a child to ‘shine,’ but they may also be used to reinforce nonmusical goals. Most people, especially children, enjoy music – therefore, music therapy can be the therapy that reinforces all other therapies.”
It is precisely this universality that has allowed music to be so effective in so many areas: people who have suffered strokes or other neurological degeneration that has affected movement are better able to walk when listening to rhythmic music; music may offer children with autism spectrum disorder a means of communicating where no other has existed for them; music may strengthen dementia sufferers’ memory recall; and, most relevant to our Musication families, music can improve motor skills, enhance memory, improve fine and gross motor skills, develop speech as well as respiration patterns and muscular relaxation; and learning to play music has been linked to enhanced performance in other academic areas such as math and science, as explored in our post on Music & Math. The AMTA even asserts that music therapy enhances quality of life: “It involves relationships between a qualified therapist and child; between one child and another; between child and family; and between the music and the participants. These relationships are structured and adapted through the elements of music to create a positive environment and set the occasion for successful growth.”
The proof is there: there is really no one that couldn’t benefit from some music therapy.
Have you ever noticed that many great musicians or composers are also mathematically inclined–and vice versa? Leonardo DaVinci, Albert Einstein, Herbie Hancock, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Coltrane. At first, music and math might seem like the two farthest disciplines from each other: in math, there is one right answer and not much of the human involved; in music, on the other hand, passion, humanity and creativity are essential ingredients. But if you look a little closer, you’ll see that there is a very precise, mathematical system underneath those wild rhythms and soaring melodies that can be harnessed to create original compositions. There is math in the music!
Thelonious Monk famously said, “All musicians are subconsciously mathematicians.” What did he mean by that? Well, when you are first learning an instrument and learning to read music, you are very likely simply rote memorizing the tune of a song, how to get from one note to the other, which comes when and how your fingers make that happen. This system definitely works! And it’s a great way to learn when you’re just starting out. But as you progress, and perhaps start to write your own music, you may find yourself wondering why one note sounds better than its neighbor, or why a certain combination of notes sounds dissonant.
The first thing you have to remember when you start getting into the link between math and music is that music travels to our brains as sound waves, and sound waves have different frequencies (for example, the E above middle C reverberates at a frequency of approximately 329.63 Hz). So when you start thinking of notes as frequencies, the distance between notes can then be understood as fractions: An article published by Kent State’s Hugh A. Glauser School of Music on the connection between math and music explains that in a middle A major interval, for example, “which is A (440 Hz) and E (659.25 Hz)…with A on the bottom and E on the top…the frequency of E is approximately 3/2 larger than that of A, making an easy, digestible fraction.” In other words, beautiful harmonic chords are collections of notes that reverberate in similar frequencies and therefore whose distance away from each other in the musical scale can be expressed by simple fractions (rather than complicated, abstract ones).
Hopefully I haven’t lost you with all the fractions and frequencies! The important thing to note is that there is reason in the rhyme: that if you want to create complicated, impeccably structured polyphonic fugues like Bach, you can. But you can also stick with what just sounds right. Either way, math and music lend themselves to each other–especially in the classroom–and this link is becoming more and more clear. In fact, Herbie Hancock, one of the polymaths mentioned above, helped start https://mathsciencemusic.org, a website that offers teachers resources and lesson plans to use music as a vehicle to teach other disciplines. His passion to “figure things out” is what drove him towards engineering and jazz.
One obvious way music and math can work together in the classroom is by helping students learn fractions, as is evidenced above. Relating fractions to music can help make these often dry mathematical staples more interesting and show students that they have a real-world application. Beyond that, a student who plays a musical instrument has to be able to recognize patterns–in notes, rhythm, etc. And patterns are essential building blocks of math, as well, so learning these two disciplines simultaneously can reinforce the concepts. Scientific American posits that music enhances executive functioning, a cognitive processing skill: “Playing a musical instrument recruits these functions through, for example, constantly adjusting your motor movements to changing tempos and key signatures.” And because executive functions “are known to be a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more so than general intelligence,” there may be a correlation (not necessarily causation, though!) between playing music and excelling in math.
So let yourself get a little mathy when learning or listening to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata; and let yourself get a little rock and roll when you’re solving for x. You may find that you’ll excel a little bit more in both.
Have you ever heard Joni Mitchell warble on your record player and felt deeply understood? Have you ever listened to an aching cello fill a recital hall with Bach and realized fundamental truths about the world? Have you ever sat at a piano and been able to say things with your fingers moving deftly over the keys that you’d never be able to say normally? Music is a powerful tool for communication, allowing you to translate complex emotional states into sound waves and send them out into the world.
Music can be an especially powerful tool for those who are unable to communicate otherwise or who have some block that makes communicating difficult.
There is growing evidence that teaching children with special needs how to play an instrument can be hugely beneficial in the development of their emotional, cognitive, social and physical skills, filling in gaps where traditional therapy or other programs fail. In fact, music therapy is now recognized by the New York State Education Department as a related service under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), meaning that music therapy is now a provided service for students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) via their school’s special education department.
Anecdotal evidence demonstrates that music can drastically help children with ADD/ADHD and other attention disorders. One mother writes in ADDitude, an online ADHD and LD-focused magazine, that listening to and learning about music and learning to play a musical instrument was game-changing for her son, Brandon, who has ADHD, auditory processing, and other processing disorders, and whom she was told would probably not graduate from high school, let alone be able to function normally in society. Taking group music classes, incorporating musical “games” into his study habits for other classes, listening to music constantly, and doing a number of other music-based exercises, Brandon was able to concentrate and focus for longer, understand more and more complex problems, and eventually grow into a fully functioning adult with a college degree and a thriving career in the film business.
And for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, music therapy can have dramatic results, aiding in speech-language acquisition, especially for “those who have the most difficulties following verbal commands, reading body languages and have deficits in social understanding,” according to Hayoung Lim, coordinator of the graduate music therapy program at Sam Houston State University.
Music strengthens those areas of the brain that, in children with special needs, are generally weak, building auditory, visual/spatial and motor cortices and most importantly, giving them a non-verbal outlet to express themselves. It also allows children to feel a sense of accomplishment when they learn to play a song, or can participate in a musical call-and-response. And while it may sound corny, music truly does bring people together: taking group music lessons can foster much-needed social skills amongst kids who are normally separated from groups, and teach children how to take turns.
Maybe you like to light some candles, meditate or do breathing exercises, practice yoga, go for a walk in nature, or vent to friends. There are many ways to calm yourself down and release stress and anxiety–in fact, all of the ones I just mentioned are good options. But there is well-documented and pretty astounding proof of music’s amazing power to reduce stress–in people of all ages!
And adults? Do we still have the ability to be affected? The science says yes. Harvard Medical School ‘s Health blog cites a study in which a group of patients undergoing surgery listened to music of their choosing before, during and after their operations; another group didn’t listen to anything. The group that listened to music had significantly lower blood pressure than the control group, and this continued to be true during recovery. Music has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels–the stress hormone that is in control of your “flight or fight” reflex, as well as your moods, motivation, energy, and much more.
But what about for people not undergoing objectively stressful medical procedures? Can music really calm you down before a big job interview, after your boss yells at you, when you’ve just gotten bad news, or when you’ve taken on too many projects and don’t have any time? A meta-review investigating music’s effect on brain chemistry published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences found that music helps the brain produce chemical messengers such as oxytocin (the “love hormone”) as well as dopamine, leading to social bonding; it also activates areas of the brain connected to emotion regulation and social responses.
Lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, less pain, and the ability regulate emotions? Pop on some Beethoven ASAP! But one important thing to keep in mind: the science suggests that people get the most benefit out of music and its stress-reducing capabilities when they engage in music together. The combination of social bonding, vibrations and rhythm works its magic on the human brain and limbic system to create a profound sense of calm, release, and well-being. So grab a chair and pull up to that drum circle in the park!
Have you ever picked up a guitar and sworn that you were becoming smarter? Sat down at a piano and decided that you were finally ready to read James Joyce’s Ulysses? Put on some classical and felt that you were more empathetic to your friend’s issues? These examples may sound extreme, but there is overwhelming evidence that learning an instrument and even just listening to music can have powerful effects on children’s brains.
The Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California published a 5-year study in 2016 that showed that music instruction accelerates brain development in young children, “particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for processing sound, language development, speech perception and reading skills.” Using MRIs and EEGs and various behavioral tests, the study found that the auditory systems of children receiving music instruction–up to 7 hours a week–were advancing more quickly than their peers who were either playing sports or not doing any specific after-school program. This advanced auditory system has direct implications for accelerated language development, reading ability, and communication.
Which is why there has been such a push for music education in public schools for so long.
A 2014 TIME article warned, however, that many of these cognitive benefits only show up for students who are actively engaged in music instruction: TIME quotes Nina Kraus, one of the authors of the Northwestern University study, who said that it was the students who “had good attendance, who paid close attention in class, ‘and were the most on-task during their lesson'” that saw marked neural processing results.
So you can’t just sit that 5-year-old down behind a cello and wait for their acceptance to Harvard? Well, no. You’ll have to work with your child to make sure they are connecting with their teacher, the music itself, the other kids in their classes. Make it a fun family affair and all take up an instrument! And even if just listening to music doesn’t raise a child’s IQ like playing music is said to do, if you play music around the house that you love, you’ll be fostering an appreciation of music in your child that will last a lifetime–it might just make them that much more likely to sit down behind that cello!
Music is the great equalizing art form: many people find visual art opaque, get bored by live theater, don’t watch movies anymore, and with the Kardashians franchise taking over, it’s hard to call a lot of TV “artistic.”
But everyone listens to music. From babies and toddlers singing along to Raffi’s “Baby Beluga,” to your eighty-year-old grandpa humming Sam Cooke; it’s safe to say that everyone likes some kind of music. Most people even learn to play an instrument–whether remedially as a requirement for school, or professionally. And recent studies have shown that music is not just good for enjoyment, entertainment or relaxation; listening to–and even, more importantly, learning to play–music is actually beneficial for brain development.
According to “This Is Your Brain. This Is Your Brain on Music,” a segment on NPR, The Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University found that giving kids music lessons helps in language development and processing, which is especially necessary for kids that are growing up underprivileged in homes ravaged by violence, drug abuse, or where both parents are mostly absent and not engaging with their kids–and thus not introducing their brains to enough language.
But even just listening to music can radically alter the way your brain communicates with itself–for the better! CNN reports on a study that showed that music worked better than anti-anxiety drugs in lowering anxiety and cortisol levels in people being prepped for major surgery–a pretty big plus for music! You may remember hearing a rumor that listening to classical music–and in particular, Mozart–can make you smarter. While this isn’t technically true, the link between listening to any kind of music and heightened brain activity is becoming clearer: Johns Hopkins Medicine says that music can keep “your brain young” and give you a “total brain workout” since your brain actually has a lot of computing to do to make sense of it.
Be sure to try out different genres, though. fMRIs–essentially brain scans–show that the more you listen to a certain type of music, the more likely you are to like that music. But new music can challenge the brain in a way that familiar music can’t, forcing you to make new connections in order to make sense of it. So if you’ve always been a classical person, try popping on a jazz record; if you only listen to 90s R&B, give klezmer a try! Just like going to the
gym, you may not like it at first, but…it does the brain good!