Isn’t it interesting how hearing a particular song can bring back a special memory or make you feel happy or calm or pumped up? People are born with the ability to tell the difference between music and noise. Our brains actually have different pathways for processing different parts of music including pitch, melody, rhythm, and tempo. And, fast music can actually increase your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure, while slower music tends to have the opposite effect.
While the effects of music on people are not fully understood, studies have shown that when you hear music to your liking, the brain actually releases a chemical called dopamine that has positive effects on mood. Music can make us feel strong emotions, such as joy, sadness, or fear—some will agree that it has the power to move us. According to some researchers, music may even have the power to improve our health and well-being.
Though more studies are needed to confirm the potential health benefits of music, some studies suggest that listening to music can have the following positive effects on health.
Improves mood. Studies show that listening to music can benefit overall well-being, help regulate emotions, and create happiness and relaxation in everyday life.
Reduces stress. Listening to ‘relaxing’ music (generally considered to have slow tempo, low pitch, and no lyrics) has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in healthy people and in people undergoing medical procedures (e.g., surgery, dental, colonoscopy).
Lessens anxiety. In studies of people with cancer, listening to music combined with standard care reduced anxiety compared to those who received standard care alone.
Improves exercise. Studies suggest that music can enhance aerobic exercise, boost mental and physical stimulation, and increase overall performance.
Improves memory. Research has shown that the repetitive elements of rhythm and melody help our brains form patterns that enhance memory. In a study of stroke survivors, listening to music helped them experience more verbal memory, less confusion, and better focused attention.
Eases pain. In studies of patients recovering from surgery, those who listened to music before, during, or after surgery had less pain and more overall satisfaction compared with patients who did not listen to music as part of their care.
Provides comfort. Music therapy has also been used to help enhance communication, coping, and expression of feelings such as fear, loneliness, and anger in patients who have a serious illness, and who are in end-of-life care.
Improves cognition. Listening to music can also help people with Alzheimer’s recall seemingly lost memories and even help maintain some mental abilities.
Helps children with autism spectrum disorder. Studies of children with autism spectrum disorder who received music therapy showed improvement in social responses, communication skills, and attention skills.
Soothes premature babies. Live music and lullabies may impact vital signs, improve feeding behaviors and sucking patterns in premature infants, and may increase prolonged periods of quiet–alert states.
You may be surprised to learn that there are more than 7000 different languages spoken across the planet. The one universal language of our world is decidedly music. Regardless of our culture or background, we all experience an emotional response to various chords and melodies and now there is substantial scientific evidence supporting the notion that music can play a role in the improvement of mental health.
A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatrist followed 79 individuals aged between 18 to 50 who were diagnosed with depression. Forty-six of the participants received traditional care including therapy sessions, medication, and psychiatric counseling. The remainder received the same treatment, but also experienced bi-weekly music therapy sessions. Those sessions allowed the participants to create music with a rhythmic mallet instrument, an acoustic drum and a percussion instrument. After just 3 months of treatment, the music therapy group showed a significant improvement in depressive symptoms compared to those in the control group.
Additional studies are revealing that music therapy may provide multiple benefits for individuals struggling with depression and anxiety:
Reduced muscle tension
Enhanced personal relationships
Safe emotional release