What is Music? Does it Benefit us? How Does it Affect the Brain? by Brooke B.
Have you ever wondered if music can help our well-being? Before we start, what is music? The definition of music according to Dictionary.com: an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the element of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.
The University of Central Florida (UFC) has a newspaper article about one of the most popular classes in The Burnett Honors College (a part of UFC). It’s called “Music and the Brain” taught by neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya and world-renowned violinist Ayako Yonetani since 2006. This class explores how music impacts human behavior and brain function. This includes reducing pain and symptoms of depression, stress, as well as improving cognitive and motor skills. Spatial-temporal learning and neurogenesis, which is the brain’s ability to produce neurons, are also a great benefit of listening to music. The professors are teaching how music can lessen neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Which also responds positively to music. These diseases also can be inherited through genetics, according to an article by the National Institutes of Health published in February of 2021.
A quote of Kiminobu Sugaya states, “Usually in the late stages, Alzheimer’s patients are unresponsive. But once you put in the headphones that play [their favorite] music, their eyes light up. They start moving and sometimes singing. The effects last maybe 10 minutes or so even after you turn off the music.”
Although the effects may be seen on the outside, what’s happening on the inside? What’s going on in the brain? Well, according to Sugaya this can be seen on an MRI, where “lots of different parts of the brain light up,” he says. Now that we know this is confirmed, what parts of the brain do music affect positively?
According to both Kiminobu Sugaya and Ayako Yonetani, the frontal lobe, used in thinking, decision making and planning, can possibly increase functions when listening to music. The temporal lobe, which is the part of the brain that processes what we hear or language, uses both hemispheres of the brain to interpret what we’re listening to. The left hemisphere translates language and words. While the right hemisphere translates the actual music sounds. The Broca’s area enables us to produce speech, and we use this part of the brain to express music or make music. There is research showing that playing an instrument may improve your ability to communicate better. Other parts of the brain that music can affect are the wernicke’s area (comprehends written and spoken language), occipital lobe (sight), cerebellum (movement and stores physical memory), nucleus accumbens (seeks pleasure and reward, releases the neurotransmitter dopamine), amygdala (processes and triggers emotions), hippocampus (produces and retrieves memories, regulates emotions), hypothalamus (produces and releases essential emotions), corpus callosum (enables left and right hemispheres to communicate), and lastly putamen (processes rhythm and regulates body movement).
The type of music that’s the best for these outputs all depend on your background. For a while, researchers believed that classical music can make a person more intelligent, but this is not necessarily true. When playing someone’s favorite music, contrasting parts of the brain are activated. They say that people with Alzheimer’s or Dementia have emotional memories associated with music, and those memories never fade out.