Updated: Oct 3, 2020
How does music make you feel? Inspired? Happy? Contemplative?
Whatever the feeling, it is based on emotion. Music has an impact on our mood, our memory, performance and wellbeing.
Who hasn’t found it easier to run a little further, or work a little faster to keep up with the tempo of the music we are listening to? All that jumping around and moving to music – that we call dance, boosts our level of alertness, the release of endorphins and helps burn off stress.
Sometimes though we question the value of music to academic and work performance. Is there a parent who hasn’t had the conversation with their teenager about whether they should attempt to study while listening to music? The research has shown that kids who learn a musical instrument often do academically better at school, especially in science, mathematics and literature, are more focused, have greater self esteem and coordination.
Music forms a big part of our lives. We listen to it on the way to and from work, while exercising and while relaxing. It becomes part of our identity. Our musical preferences as teenagers stay with us as we age.
So does music enhance or hinder performance?
While noise is a stressor to the brain, music that we like will boost our mood, keeping the brain in a more relaxed state that is open to learning, new ideas and greater insight.
Music connects us at a deeper level with each other, which is why we love going to concerts, dance parties and singing together. We collectively synchronise our beating hearts and brain waves. That’s great for enhancing collaboration and relatedness.
The impact of music and how the brain works is being investigated in those areas where the brain has been damaged through injury or disease. Many thanks to all those who brought to my attention the recent Catalyst program that explored this beautifully in relation to those with dementia or Parkinson’s disease.
Elsewhere “Singing for the Brain” groups have been running for a while in a number of countries. Here those living with dementia and their carers come together for a sing-along – and while the power of conversation and speech may have been lost, the memories of songs instantly come flooding back.
The Catalyst program on the ABC revealed how personalised playlists are being trialed to assist those with dementia to reconnect with themselves and how music can assist to unlock bodies frozen by movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Music also helps those afflicted by stuttering as brilliantly portrayed in the film "The King’s speech".
The impact of music on the brain.
When we listen to music, multiple areas of the brain are activated including those associated with movement, planning, attention and memory. It changes our brain chemistry as well. Listening to music we enjoy stimulates the release of dopamine that makes us feel rewarded