Music and the Brain

Many of us think of music as “just entertainment” – but that’s not really seeing the whole picture. The history of music is as old as humanity, and looking back to older civilizations, we can see the dramatic impact that music has had on societies.


Today, we can also see how music works on our human brains. With more neuroscience at our fingertips, scientists are starting to understand why it is that music is so important to people. It doesn’t just tickle our ears – there’s now compelling evidence that music actually gives our brains a boost, as well.


Music, Success and Academics


A 2013 article in the New York Times called “Is music the key to success?” shows how musical interests and hobbies are often pursued by extremely intelligent people, for instance, Alan Greenspan, who was widely considered the “wizard of the Federal Reserve” throughout the 1990s.


Other reports show specifically how music correlates with academic success and intellectual achievement. An educational video shows how scientists have hooked up patients to PET and MRI scanners and found out how music stimulates the brain ways that the producers describe as “fireworks in the brain.” Linking music to various kinds of task analysis and brain activity, researchers show how enjoying music or playing music can enhance memory through a process of multiple tagging.


Charging the Brain’s Battery


There’s also a creative element to music, particularly for musicians, who are doing more than just rote memorization tasks even when they’re playing to sheet music.


In a TED talk, Tania de Jong describes this as a union of the right and left sides of the brain. The right side, she says, is responsible for intuition and creative functions. If the brain is a battery, de Jong says, the right side charges that battery, and the left side uses that charge.


Elaborating on the therapeutic value of music, de Jong suggests that it really enhances our experience in a variety of social and intellectual ways.


The Best Medicine


Even some studies of medical outcomes seem to show that music can have a positive impact on health.


Doctors are looking at how music can contribute to lower blood pressure and help to prevent strokes, migraine headaches or seizures. There’s a meditative quality that some researchers have documented – and there’s also that lighting up of biological neurons and synapses that feeds our creative energies and harmonizes the mental work that we do on an ongoing basis.


With all this in mind, it’s easier to understand why music is more than just a hobby. It’s an investment in keeping your mind and your body capable and building skills and intellectual abilities for your work and life.


Talk to Rochester Conservatory about our musical services for all ages, and how you can tap into your musical potential.

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