“Without music, life would be a mistake” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Why is it that music can have such a strong effect on us? Music has been and still remains a huge part of culture around the world. Whether it’s the busker on the streets serenading strangers or a festival with thousands of people shoulder to shoulder, it can bring people together. It helps us find familiar grounds with others and immerse ourselves in the present moment without communication.
From tribes using primitive instruments to modern electronic music, humans are enchanted with rhythm and melody. Some of the oldest percussion instruments found at this point date back to over 165,000 years old, it’s fascinating to think why we have always had an obsession with instruments. Children move and dance to music before they are even taught how to, rhythm it seems, is part of life.
Let’s take a look at how the music can benefit the brain and body:
1. Creativity is improved when listening to ambient music
We all like to turn up the music when we’re working through to-do lists, but when it comes to creative work, loud music may not be the best option.
It turns out that a moderate noise level is the sweet spot for when your feeling creative. Even more than low noise levels, ambient noise apparently gets our creative juices flowing and doesn’t put us off the way high levels of noise do.
The way this works is that moderate noise levels increase processing difficulty which promotes abstract processing, leading to higher creativity. In other words, when we struggle (just enough) to process things as we normally would, we resort to more creative approaches.
In high noise levels, however, our creative thinking is impaired because we’re overwhelmed and struggle to process information efficiently.
This is very similar to how temperature and lighting can affect our productivity, where paradoxically a slightly more crowded place can be beneficial.
2. Motor and reasoning skills can drastically improve with musical training
We normally assume that learning an instrument can be beneficial for children, but it’s actually useful in more ways than we might expect. One study showed that children who had three years or more musical instrument training performed better than those who didn’t learn an instrument in auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills.
They also tested better on vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills, which involve understanding and analyzing visual information, such as identifying relationships, similarities and differences between shapes and patterns.
3. Music we consider happy or sad can affect how we see neutral faces
We can usually pick if a piece of music is particularly happy or sad, but this isn’t just a subjective idea that comes from how it makes us feel. In fact, our brains actually respond differently to happy and sad music.
Even short pieces of happy or sad music can affect us. One study showed that after hearing a short piece of music, participants were more likely to interpret a neutral expression as happy or sad, to match the tone of the music they heard. This also happened with other facial expressions, but was most notable for those that were close to neutral.
Something else that’s really interesting about how our emotions are affected by music is that there are two kind of emotions related to music: perceived emotions and felt emotions.
This means that sometimes we can understand the emotions of a piece of music without actually feeling them, which explains why some of us find listening to sad music enjoyable, rather than depressing.
Unlike in real life situations, we don’t feel any real threat or danger when listening to music, so we can perceive the related emotions without truly feeling them—almost like vicarious emotions.
4. Visual attention is increased when you listen to classical music
It’s not just kids that can benefit from musical training or exposure. Stroke patients in one small study showed improved visual attention while listening to classical music.
The study also tried white noise and silence to compare the results, and found that, like the driving study mentioned earlier, silence resulted in the worst scores.
Because this study was so small, the conclusions need to be explored further for validation, but I find it really interesting how music and noise can affect our other senses and abilities—in this case, vision.
5. Exercise, music can help with that
Research on the effects of music during exercise has been done for years. In 1911, an American researcher, Leonard Ayres, found that cyclists pedaled faster while listening to music than they did in silence.
This happens because listening to music can drown out our brain’s cries of fatigue. As our body realizes we’re tired and wants to stop exercising, it sends signals to the brain to stop for a break. Listening to music competes for our brain’s attention and can help us to override those signals of fatigue though this is mostly beneficial for low- and moderate-intensity exercise. During high-intensity exercise, music isn’t as powerful at pulling our brain’s attention away from the pain of the workout.
Not only can we push through the pain to exercise longer and harder when we listen to music, but it can actually help us to use our energy more efficiently. A 2012 study showed that cyclists who listened to music required 7% less oxygen to do the same work as those who cycled in silence.
Some recent research has shown that there’s a ceiling effect on music at around 145 bpm, where anything higher doesn’t seem to add much motivation, so keep that in mind when choosing your workout playlist.
So, in the same way that exercising makes us happier, it’s not surprising that music adds significantly to our workout success.
Resources from https://blog.bufferapp.com/music-and-the-brain