How Music Affects the Brain | Tips | WhisperRoom, Inc.™

How Music Affects the Brain

By: WhisperRoom™

June 15, 2022

Image of a brain with headphones on

Does music have the ability to affect the brain? Evidence suggests that it does, and the positive effects of music reach many different aspects of cognitive function.

Your age or musical ability doesn’t matter. Whether you’re a child learning an instrument or an elderly person listening to your favorite tunes from the past, you can experience the benefits for yourself.

Just think of all the possibilities in knowing how music affects the brain! You can use it to unwind after a stressful day, improve your focus on an important project, help a child develop their reading and communication skills, or connect with a loved one struggling with dementia.

Keep reading to learn how music affects the brain and how you can use music to benefit yourself and the people around you.

Changes to the Physical Brain in Children

How does music affect the brain? Well, music can have a physical impact on children’s developing brains.

A five-year study by the University of Southern California neuroscientists studied a group of six to seven-year-old children from underprivileged areas of Los Angeles. Some of these children received music instruction from the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles program, and others didn’t.

Within two years, the auditory systems of the children in the music program matured faster than the children in the other group. The enhanced auditory maturity sped up their development of:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Language
  • Speech
  • Sound processing

This maturity shows an increase in neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form and reorganize connections. It’s a physiological change in the brain as it responds to its environment.

In short, the brain rewires itself to function differently than it had previously.

Reduces Levels of Stress and Anxiety

Music has been proven to reduce stress levels just by listening. Playing an instrument amplifies calming effects.

Listening to music can lower heart rate and release endorphins. It can also serve as a distraction by focusing your attention on something not related to your stress triggers.

Music can also lower the levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that allows humans to react in dangerous situations. But at prolonged elevated levels, cortisol can have detrimental effects on the body.

It’s probably obvious, but genres such as classical or soft pop will likely be more relaxing than heavy metal or other pieces with intense beats and lyrics. You should always listen to your body and choose music that relaxes you.

WIRED‘s Peter Rubin looks at the impact of music on the brain and body.

Improves Memory, IQ, and Focus

Music improves brain function in several ways. A few of the areas that benefit from music include:

  • Memory
  • IQ
  • Focus

Learning to play an instrument has been shown to increase memory. Like learning a new language, learning to play music requires quite a bit of memorization. This learning process exercises your memory, making it stronger.

That same exercise can also improve cognitive skills and increase IQ by several points.

And improvising music can increase focus. Measurements of brain activity show that some musicians seem to turn off specific regions of their brain while improvising music, allowing them to focus more clearly on the music they’re playing.

Offers Improvements in Alzheimer’s and Stroke Patients

Conditions that have negative impacts on the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or a stroke, can often be alleviated with music.

People with advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s often withdraw from the world around them, likely because they no longer recognize much of it. Also, visual recognition and communication tend to be severely affected, making interaction difficult.

People with dementia have demonstrated positive behavioral and emotional reactions to music they recognize. Sometimes, even if they’re no longer verbal, their faces light up when they hear songs they recognize, and some will even sing along.

Since several areas of the brain that are linked to musical memory are less damaged by Alzheimer’s, memories connected to music sometimes survive after other memories are gone.

Stroke patients have also been shown to demonstrate more positive moods and better visual attention after listening to pleasant music. These patients had higher activity scores on various tests compared to patients who listened to white noise.

When using music with stroke or dementia patients, choose the music they enjoy and recognize, and don’t hesitate to play the same pieces over again. If they express dislike, however, move on to a different song.

Enhances Creativity

While common sense would suggest that a quiet environment with no distractions is the ideal environment to focus on creative endeavors, the opposite appears to be true.

Some level of ambient noise, around 70 decibels could help you be more creative. 70 decibels are about the volume of a dishwasher.

It could be that background noise subconsciously distracts you to the point where you aren’t focusing too hard, allowing the creativity to come through.

This theory of mild distraction may not hold for everybody or all types of music. For instance, more people will find that this theory is true with classical or other calming instrumental music versus higher intensity music.

People with attention disorders may also struggle to listen to music in the background while engaging in creative activities.

Final Thoughts on How Music Affects the Brain

Music can have incredible benefits for people of any age and condition. Learning to play an instrument, or even composing your music, can have amazing positive effects on your long-term brain function. These effects allow you to learn and memorize information more effectively.

Even the simple act of listening to music can have short-term benefits on emotions, aiding in stress relief and creativity. It can also improve the mood and memories of dementia or stroke patients.

The benefits of music are numerous and varied, so consider incorporating music into your everyday life. You can play some instrumental music while you work, learn to strum a guitar, or dust off that piano you haven’t played in years.

So, play your favorite song and discover how music affects the brain.

Written by Martin Kristiansen from

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