People in our society have generally viewed music as purely recreational activity, something associated with fun and dancing, or something to be played at weddings and parties. Another segment of society views music as unacceptable, associating it with vulgarity and lewdness. This may be true of most forms of popular music which are prevalent throughout the world right now; but many of us have completely overlooked the fact that music can be used as an extremely effective therapeutic tool in our daily lives.
An article published in the journal “Nature Neuroscience” tested dopamine levels of college students while they listened to their preferred genre of music and found that there was a surge of dopamine levels in their brains. (Salimpoor, Benovoy, Larcher, et al, 2011)
Music affects the limbic system of the brain, and also has the ability to produce endorphins, which are helpful in fighting low moods and even depression.
Dopamine is a chemical which is associated with feelings of pleasure in the human body. It is also one of the main chemical which is released when a person consumes drugs, food or engages in sexual activity.
Music therapists who work with patients with neurological problems such as brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease and strokes; causes them to lose functions, such as memory, and motor and verbal skills. Yet the structure and emotional content of music can help them to access these functions again, she said.
Research has shown that veteran musicians have more gray matter in their brain, and that some of the areas of their brain have become highly specialized and developed, when compared to armature musicians or people who do not play musical instruments.
In a documentary ‘Gray Matters: Music and the Brain’, the creators talk about how listening to music combines the auditory and memory/learning related parts of the brain, like the hippocampus. It could be argued that listening to and music with complex patterns activates the neuronal pathways in the hippocampus, which can lead to an improved efficiency of the neurons.
Most people have heard about the Mozart effect, which was an experiment in which people were made to listen to classical music, and they found that their functioning on specific tasks increased. This does not mean that listening to music makes you more intelligent or increases your IQ, but listening to soothing music can however, decrease cortisol levels in the body, therefore fighting stress. On the other hand, listening to upbeat music can increase the body’s immunity by increasing the number of antibodies in your system. Music is also a great tool for distracting yourself, and helps in reducing anxiety.
It is surprising that people turn to artificial means to reduce stress in their lives when they have such a wonderful tool for combating a variety of problems which we all face in our daily routine. We should try to integrate music into our routine, for example listen to something soothing when driving during rush hours, as driving in heavy traffic can be a major source of the stress.
It can also be used to relax after a long day at work, and is especially effective when used with deep breathing techniques.
Upbeat music can be used in different scenarios. It is effective when exercising, as it keeps a person from getting bored and also serves as a sort of booster when energy levels are low.
So in conclusion, rather than looking at music from a negative point of view, we should try and look at the positive aspects and educate ourselves about it so that we can derive its benefits.
- Gray Matters: Music and the Brain, TV and Radio Transcripts
- Musica Research Notes, 1996, 1998, 1999
- Music and the Brain: Processing and Responding (A General Overview), Feyza Sancar