Music is a fundamental and universal means of expression. The ability to recognize rhythm and melody is a core function in all of our brains that can be traced back before speech. From an evolutionary standpoint, music precedes language. Our brains are wired to respond to music and we respond at multiple levels, from basic recognition of tones and timing to deeper recognition of melody and finally emotional responses based on the music itself or memories connected to the music.
We have written about music and the brain on this blog before, on topics like how music benefits people with brain injuries, a discussion of the top 12 brain-based reasons music as therapy works, and how jazz improvisation changes your brain. This amazing demonstration by Bobby McFerrin shows how the brain knows and can respond to cues instinctively. A series of books on the topic that we’ve highlighted in the past, This Is Your Brain on Music and Musicophilia, talk in-depth about the connection between music and the brain.
Additional studies and anecdotal evidence have pointed to the power of music. A study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences journal showed clear changes in the brain of musicians and are a wonderful study of the power of brain plasticity. A study published in The Journal of Neuroscience showed significant differences in the brain’s volume in certain regions between musicians and non-musicians.
Another study was just published, this one in Nature Review Neuroscience, that concludes “training leads to changes throughout the auditory system that prime musicians for listening challenges beyond music processing. This effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness.”
So take the time to pick up an instrument, either for the first time or to rekindle an old skill. If that’s too much to tackle right now, listen to your favorite type of music and see how much you can hear–the rhythm, the melody, the different instruments, the emotions the song creates, and any memories that are attached to that piece. You’ll do your brain some good.