Soul healing: What music does to your body and brain

A woman with a headphone listening to music
EJ
Emeh Joy

"Without music, life would be a mistake" - Friedrich Nietzsche

Have you heard the saying by the famous artist, Bob Marley, "One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain"? Exactly, that is the power of music. Music does pleasant things to your brain, which in turn makes your body feel good.

I am a big fan of music. I work with music, I read with music, I do my workouts with music, I listen to music when I'm happy and when I'm sad. I'm currently writing this with my earphones on listening to music. I literally do everything with music; let's say music is good for my soul.

Music also helps me remember some details I would have ordinarily forgotten. There are lots of incidents I remember simply because of the music that was playing. Whenever I hear the same music, I recall the past event.

For lots of people just like me, music is a huge part of their life, yet many do not know how it affects the brain or that it even affects the brain. We react to music in several ways without even realizing it. Here are some facts about music you do not know about.

Music affects how we see neutral faces

When listening to music, we can easily tell if the music is happy or sad, and that is because of the way the music makes us feel. The brain tends to respond differently to different music genres.

A study involving a certain number of participants showed that they were more likely to interpret a neutral facial expression as happy or sad just in line with the tone of the music they listened to. This was more notable with neutral facial expressions even though it also happened with other facial expressions.

There are two kinds of emotions related to music

One fascinating thing about music is that it affects our emotions in two ways - either as "perceived emotion" or "felt emotion".

This means that there are times we actually feel the emotion emanating from a piece of music; if the music is a sad one, our mood becomes sad, if it's a happy one, our mood becomes happy.

On the other hand, the emotion related to music can be just perceived. This means we only understand the emotions coming from the music, but we don't actually feel them. This explains why sometimes we listen to sad songs but don't actually get moody or depressed.

Our choice of music can tell our personality

Music for the soul: A couple listening to music together

This study is an interesting one that might pique your interest. Music can connect two people with similar interests or personality. A study was carried out in which couples spent a lot of time getting to know each other and checking out each others top 10 favourite songs. It provided a relatively reliable prediction of each listener's personality traits.

Also, another study in this area carried out at Heriot-Watt University discovered the following personality connection to different music genres:

  • Those that love classical music have high self-esteem, are introverts in nature and are creative.
  • Lovers of blues have high self-esteem, are outgoing, creative and at ease.
  • Rap lovers are outgoing and have high self-esteem.
  • Jazz fans are outgoing, feel at ease, are creative and have high self-esteem.
  • Dance fans are not gentle but are outgoing and creative.
  • Those that love opera are gentle and creative with high self-esteem.
  • Rock fans are not outgoing, not hardworking and have low self-esteem. However, they are creative, gentle and at ease.
  • Indie fans have low self-esteem. They are not gentle and are not hardworking, but they are creative.
  • Chart pop fans are not creative and not at ease, but they have high self-esteem, are outgoing, hardworking and gentle.

Of course, it would be wrong to generalize here as the study doesn't prove 100 per cent accuracy. However, looking at the science of temperaments, there is some clear overlap.

The powerful effects of music on the brain and body

Recently launched research works have shown that music has a specific impact on the brain, which can reduce pain, enhance memory and brain injuries as well as relieve stress. Elena Mannes in the book, "The Power of Music" said, "Scientists have found that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function". Here are some ways music stimulate brain function.

Music reduces pain

Different studies have suggested this, and this includes a study in 2014 which revealed that music helped patients with fibromyalgia. It showed that the patients who listened to relaxing music of their choice felt a significant reduction in pain as well as increased functional mobility.

Scientists believe that music does this by triggering the release of the body's natural pain relievers- opioids. Review of another study conducted in 2013 showed that people who were given an opioid blocker, Naltrexone felt less pressure as they listened to their favourite music. This suggests that music triggers the release of pain-relieving opioids.

Relief from stress

Music has the ability to alleviate stress as it lowers the level of the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is known as the body's stress hormone, which is released in response to stress.

According to the American Psychological Association, a study carried out in 2013 involving 42 children between the ages of 3 and 11 showed a link between music and a reduction in stress. The patients who listened to a piece of relaxing music while getting an IV insertion reportedly felt less pain and less distress when compared to the ones that did not listen to music.

Enhances mood and offers comfort

Studies reveal the beneficial effects of music on the emotions and general wellbeing of people. It creates happiness and puts the body in a relaxed state.

Also, music therapy has been used for ages now to enhance communication, help with coping and expressions of feelings of fear, anger and loneliness in patients who are battling certain health issues.

Improves memory and cognition

A study did show that the repetition of elements of rhythm and melody makes it easier for the brain to form patterns which enhance memory. This why you find out that it is easier for you to remember or recite some information which is recited as a song.

Music and creativity: Music can help with focus and concentration while working

In a study carried out on stroke survivors, it showed the music they listened to helped them attain more verbal memory, focus more and reduced confusion as well. It has also helped people who have Alzheimer's disease to remember things and memories they seem to have lost and also improved their mental capacities.

Enhances certain brain conditions

Music has a positive effect on patients who have experienced brain injury, seizure or stroke. In fact, a study has it that the way epilepsy patients respond to music is different from the way people without epilepsy response to music. Stress triggers seizures, and with music, many patients reportedly felt relaxed.

Also, in another study in 2008, stroke patients who listened to music during the early stage of the condition recorded an improvement in recovery.

Reports have it that a music-based treatment was developed in 1973 to help stroke survivors or people with aphasia to communicate. Most times, even though these people can't speak, they can sing. The idea is that from singing, they would be able to speak again.

It helps with exercise and improves motor skills

Have you noticed that you get more creative when you are listening to music than when you are merely working in silence? The same happens with exercise. Little wonder workouts like morning jogging get boring without having your earphones strapped to your ear and music playing in the background.

Different researches have been carried out in this area. Leonard Ayres, an American researcher, found out in 1911 that cyclists pedalled faster while they listen to music than when they do so in silence. It just seems music drowns out our brains signal of fatigue. This works more with low- and moderate-intensity exercises than with high-intensity exercises.

You will also find out that learning musical instruments is very beneficial. Asides helping with creativity, a study showed that people who had musical instrument training had better auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills than those who didn't. They also tend to have a better vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning.

The brain-music connection

The brain is divided into different lobes and centres, with each lobe further divided into areas. Each area of the brain has the function it controls. While some control motor function, some others control sensory function.

For instance, there is the Broca and Wernicke's speech area, which enables us to produce speech and controls spoken and written language, respectively. According to Ayako Yonetani, a UCF professor and world-renowned violinist, Broca's area is the part of the brain that is used to express music while Wernicke's is the part that is used to analyze and enjoy music.

Indeed, scientists are yet to figure it all out. They are yet to understand how our brains interpret and play music fully. When music is blaring off a stereo, vibrations travel through the air and into the ear canal.

The vibrations cause tickling of the eardrum and are transmitted into an electrical signal which travels via the auditory nerve to the brain stem. It is here that the electrical signals are reassembled into what we perceive as music.

Jump-start your creativity with music and listen to your body

The way music affects the brain differ depending on the music. You would notice that music of this age challenges the brain in a better way than the music of the medieval ages.

Also, if you are not used to listening to the music of the 21st century, you may notice it doesn't feel pleasurable at first because of unfamiliarity, but that will only push the brain to struggle to understand the unfamiliar sound.

It is also important that you pay attention to how you react to different genres or forms of music. Don't just pick any and force yourself to flow with it. Pick what works for you.

You"d be surprised to know that the music that helps another person focus and concentrate would be distracting for you. And the music that one uses to unwind and relax may make you feel jumpy.

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