Whether you’re listening to Bach, Haydn or even St Vincent, you can often find yourself being calmed, inspired or pumped up from music. But have you ever contemplated why this happens?
How music affects the brain
Music has played an important part in every human culture, both past, and present for multiple millennia. Music today has evolved from basic sounds to something more complex that we now live alongside daily.
Like any sound, music arrives at the ear in the form of sound waves. The external ear collects sound waves, and the ear canal funnels them to the eardrum. As the waves strike the eardrum, they cause it to vibrate. The vibrations are relayed along the chain of tiny bones in the middle ear until they reach the third bone, the stapes, which connects to the cochlea.
The cochlea is filled with fluid that surrounds some 10,000 to 15,000 tiny hair cells, or cilia. Vibrations of the stapes send fluid waves through the spiral-shaped cochlea. The fluid waves produce swaying movements of the hair cells. In turn, these cells release chemical neurotransmitters that activate the auditory nerve, sending miniature electric currents to the auditory cortex in the temporal lobe of the brain.
When music reaches the temporal lobe, the area of the brain tasked with auditory and visual processing a number of things happen. It’s important to emphasize this area is integral to sound processing, meaning it transforms noise into something we can understand as music. Then secondly, as sound flows through this part of the brain and we realise that it’s music it causes dopamine to be released. Dopamine is an interesting chemical because it induces pleasure and joy, which in-turn improves our mood and reduces anxiety.
Health benefits of music
Music reduces stress and anxiety
Research has shown that listening to music, at least music with a slow tempo and low pitch, without lyrics or loud instrumentation, can calm people down, even during highly stressful or painful events. Music can also prevent anxiety-induced increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure, and decrease cortisol levels – all biological markers of stress.
Music decreases pain
Music has a unique ability to help with pain management, it’s not clear why music may reduce pain, though music’s ability to trigger the release of dopamine may play a role. This is because, stress and pain are closely linked, with reductions in stress directly impacting on the effects of pain on the body.
Music helps memory
Lastly, music has been shown to have strong mental health benefits. Music enjoyment elicits dopamine release, and dopamine release has been tied to motivation, which in turn is implicated in learning and memory.
As you can see listening to music has some important health benefits. And if you’re like us, listening is as much about art as it is science. That’s why you should listen to your favourite audio on the highest quality audio system you can buy.