The purpose of music is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought,” Thomas Beecham once said. With that being said, all sanity is lost in the mind of a worrier, music shall set the soul free, then no one is held captive by the thoughts that consume. At some point, everyone faces obstacles; we often console ourselves by putting in our headphones and blocking out the real world. The chills that we get when we listen to pleasurable music is actually dopamine running through our body releasing the same brain chemicals as food, drugs and sex. This has a major effect because it soothes the sorrows or pain one may feel daily. For that reason, no matter what culture, or ethnicity someone is, music gives everyone a way to express themselves and open up to the world. For generations, it’s what has brought America together disregarding, the languages spoken, the color of skin, or even the politics followed. Music significantly improves and benefits the brain through felt emotions, helping those with dementia, and improving the long-term memory.
There are two types of emotions that come into factor when people hear and listen to music, perceived and felt emotions. Perceived emotion is the ability to identify and recognize emotions when listening to musical pieces. Whereas, felt emotion is when an individual feels the emotions expressed in the song. In other words, the brain responds differently to happy and sad music. The Amygdala, the structure in the brain, is responsible for how anyone reacts to emotional stimuli.
In addition, there are many other regions of the brain that are affected by emotions- hippocampus, hypothalamus, and many other areas. Playing an instrument has even more benefits than by just listening. For example, when playing music you are practically engaging every part of the brain; especially the auditory, motor and visual courtesies. As these fireworks go off in the brain, it is involving both hemispheres of the brain to work together. Structured practice in music strengths those brain functions making it easier to apply the strength to other activities including planning, problem solving, strategizing, and paying attention to detail. Furthermore, there are many intricate tasks that the brain has to go through because playing music requires being able to craft and know the emotional content and message. This further explains why musicians have higher levels of executive function than those that do not play an instrument. These benefits are specifically unique to music, neuroscientists tried to see if sports and painting had the same effects as learning a musical instrument but of course the artistic aspects differed from all the other activities studied.
For many decades, there has been research shown that even those who suffer from Alzheimers disease can benefit from music. As a matter of fact, our brains are wired to associate music with the long-term memory. Behind the forehead, lies the prefrontal cortex, what happens is that when we hear a piece of familiar music, a mental movie starts playing in our heads and it brings back memories of a particular time, person or place. Even for individuals with more severe Dementia, music can draw emotional recall. Presently, neurologists have claimed that musical favorites can access deep memories that are not even lost in dementia. It is found that people with dementia or parkinson’s and other diseases that damage the brain’s chemistry, can reconnect to the world around them and improve their quality of life by listening to their personal favorites.
Many movies and TV shows portray how music can trigger ones thoughts and deepest devotions. In the movie, “The Music Never Stopped,” with J.K. Simmons, this poignant film was based on a true story. It portrayed the story of a father and son’s relationship and how war in the late ‘60s tore them apart. As a teenager, Gabriel decided to drop-out of college when he got involved in the hippie scene. He eventually left home when he got into an argument with his father. In the years leading up to the war, the music was a way for Gabriel and his Dad, Henry, to connect to one another. But as time went on, Henry struggled to bond with Gabriel, who developed a brain tumor that disconnected him from the outside world and prevented him from forming new memories into the long-term. As a way to help him get better, Henry gets a music therapist involved to help improve his memory; that was destroyed during the removal of the tumor. Nevertheless, the music therapist started to see progress. She found that when she played the hits from his youth on vinyl that it made him recall where he was when he first heard the song, what year it was, and the overall mood of the music. When she played “The Grateful Dead,” it sparked memories of the argument he had with his father and how he never ended up going to their concert. Throughout the sessions, Gabriel starts to reconnect with the world around him and he even deepens and repairs his relationship with Henry. Therefore, the themes presented in this film prove that in fact music can build and strengthen our relationships and trigger emotional memories of the past.
The exploration of whether music has lasting effects on the brain has been a focus for many years. Knowing that music affects the brain by creating new neural pathways and releasing feel-good chemicals, researchers are still finding out more about how this could benefit folks suffering from mental illnesses and disease. Even scientists have come to the conclusion that the brain is so complex that it is impossible to know everything that goes on inside it. Regardless, there are still experimental projects and theories being found. This subject has enraptured the interests of many neurologists; all thanks to the dedicated researchers that we are finding more evidence leading to how music has played a role in brain development.