Music and the Brain

Feature image from

Music and the Brain

Grace Rhodes, staff writer

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Victor Hugo 

Music. Considered by some to be the greatest human achievement. Used and cultivated over the course of history not just as an art but also as a central force in many historic ceremonies and to convey political messages. What easier way to sway the hearts and minds of the people than with a catchy tune?!

Music is steeped in tradition and cultural significance. I would argue, however, that the essence of music lies not in the music itself, but in what it evokes because the things we feel from listening to music are biologically and chemically engineered by none other than the human brain.

According to Johns Hopkins University, when sound waves enter our ear canal, they vibrate the ear drum. These vibrations turn into electrical signals that reach our brain through the auditory nerve, arranging the pieces into something intelligible — music.

Multiple parts of our brain are engaged in making and listening to music. Parts such as the Temporal Lobe, Broca’s Area, and Wernicke’s Area process sound, speech, and language while other parts like the Cerebellum and Occipital Lobe contribute to our visual and physical perception of music.

Scientists believe many benefits can be derived from music. Listening to music stimulates the Frontal Lobe, or the thinking center of your brain. This can result in a quicker thought process, and better decision making. Learning to play music forges new connections in your brain which can result in faster learning, better memory retention, and less stress. You don’t have to be a Yo Yo Ma or Beethoven by any means; just take a couple of lessons!

Music is deeply tied to the area of our brain that elicits memory and emotion. An old song from your childhood might bring forth feelings of nostalgia or a certain memory. Even in Alzheimer’s patients, the effect of music remains the same.

Listening to music you like is great for your emotional health, but scientists also recommend varying up your playlist. New and different types of music provide a new challenge for your brain to tackle. You might reject it at first, but your brain will eventually sort it out.

Learning to play an instrument requires you to focus and work your mental and physical memory. Physical memory or “muscle memory” is when, through a repetitive act, your muscles “remember” an action. In the case of a musician, good muscle memory developed from practice can make performing easier. Being a musician also requires the rigorous use of mental memory as well. Some musicians can even visualize a score without a physical copy lending to their efficiency on stage. Learning music is a mental workout!

Music has many benefits across the board, so I encourage you to try it; whether that be listening to a new genre or picking up a guitar, your brain is guaranteed to be intrigued!