What are the benefits of listening to music?

What are the benefits of listening to music?
What happens to us when we listen to music? 

Most of us would agree that we love music, even if each individual’s ideas of what good music is, differs greatly. Have you ever wondered though, why do we love music so much and does it have any positive benefits for us physically or mentally?

“I got chills”

Do you get goosebumps or, what people often describe as chills, when you listen to certain pieces of music? If so, you are not alone. Scientists are now recognising that some people get an extra emotional buzz from certain musical pieces and it is all down to how their brains are wired. Studies have shown greater activity between auditory and emotional areas of the brain, when people experience these chills. They have reported that the pathways between these two areas of the brain are stronger in people that frequently experience these overt physical responses to music.

Musical creativity

When I am writing I like to work in a silent environment but many people feel they are much more productive if they listen to music while working. It would appear there is some science to back up their claims.

Some reports suggest that listening to happy music can increase divergent thinking and creativity; but it is not just the type of music you choose that helps, it is also the level of sound you choose to work in. Apparently there is a sweet spot, too high (around 85 decibels or above) and it acts as a distraction, too low (50 decibels or below) and there is not enough sound to make a difference. According to one study, a level of about 70 decibels is just right if you want to increase your creativity (that’s around the same level of noise as the average vacuum cleaner makes).

Musical advantage

Studies on those learning to play a musical instrument has shown that many areas of the brain are involved in the process. A prolonged period of time spent learning, particularly in children, can literally change the structure of the brain. It increases pathways and connection between both hemispheres of the brain as well as many of the regions within each hemisphere. This can make musical students better problem solvers.

If you prefer to just listen instead of play that’s alright too. Studies show that listening to music can literally lights up every part of our brain. It can also release a cocktail of neurochemicals that give us quite the hit; listening to just the right tunes can really lift our mood. Listening to music has been shown to reduced stress, anxiety and depression. A study carried out in Belfast a number of years ago, and including more than 250 children, showed that music therapy had the power to reduce depression in young children.

Music and health

Music doesn’t just affect our mood though, it has been shown to have a number of other health benefits too. Studies have reported that listening to music can boost the body’s immune system and can increase a patient’s recovery time, after an operation.

The positive effects of music has led to the design of a number of tailored music programmes, created to help treat patients with certain long term illnesses. Such therapies have been shown to have benefits when treating pain levels in people with chronic pain. Positive effects are also reported with some dementia patients. Music therapy is also becoming more popular to help in improve speech and movement in stroke patients or people recovering from certain brain traumas.

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