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Your Brain and Music

By Zoe Gopoian

Think about your favorite song. What about that song makes it special to you? Does it make you feel a certain way? Does it remind you of a time in your life? Maybe it is the lyrics that are important to you. Or maybe you are more interested in the musicianship and what the instruments are doing. There is so much that can make a song special, and there is no one way to appreciate music.

I turn to music as a form of comfort, creative expression, and just as something to do when I'm bored, too. Music is very important to me, and it is a healthy outlet and form of entertainment in my life and the lives of many others.

I find it very interesting that music can be so meaningful to people. Nothing brings people together like singing a song they all like. Music can trigger emotions and even memories in people. A familiar tune can bring someone to tears, or imprint smiles on faces, or make people angry. How is this possible?

There is scientific evidence that music can directly impact the brain. You might feel certain reactions to specific characteristics in a song. For example, your heart rate may increase with a fast-paced or suspenseful song, or you may feel lethargic after hearing a particularly sad or slow song.

One article suggests that there is a distinct correlation between music and areas of the brain. Many of these ties have to do with emotional processing.

You can have an emotional response to music for many reasons. It can be from reactions to the tempo of a song. As I previously mentioned, people might feel an increased heart rate, joy, or anxiety because of a song with a faster pace. Think of the song from the famous film, Jaws; it gradually gets more intense in tempo and volume, keeping you on the edge of your seat.

Slower paced songs are often felt as calming or relaxing. These songs might have other qualities, like being softer, simpler with less complexities. Maybe just a voice and a few instruments. But it doesn't necessarily have to be like that. It’s not that we are feeling sad for that music when we hear it, but our brains are getting communications that that song makes us sad.

In addition to that, we have a much more emotional response to a song when there is a sense of familiarity tied to that song. That explains why a memory can be attached to a song, and why you have such an intense reaction when you hear your favorite song.

A study found that people who are more empathetic react more intensely to music. You might sense an emotion in a song, but to feel that emotion yourself is a result of empathy.

Our brains are very powerful. Our neurons can prioritize some sounds over others. For example, when you hear your phone ring, you immediately know that someone is calling you. It’s like how an animal -- or even a person -- can be conditioned into associating certain tones or songs or sounds with an activity, like getting food.

Music can be very rewarding to our brain, too. There is a lot of evidence that suggests that music can exercise the brain in many ways, such as reasoning, creativity, social skills, and language skills.

When you dedicate time and responsibility into learning an instrument, your brain is doing exercise. Another article linked below says that learning an instrument “involves vision, hearing, motor planning, emotion, and symbol interpretation.”

Personally, I find that music is something that calms me down when I'm angry or upset. It helps me deal with stress and other emotions. To do this I might plug in my headphones and listen to something or start playing the piano. Both help me get out of my head and the things that bother me so that I can refocus and return to whatever I need to later, with a refreshed mind.

Many people use music in the same ways. Many use it in different ways. Music is universal -- yet intensely personal. Its power cannot be underestimated.


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