Music is everywhere. The fact that it is present in almost all aspects of our lives—from festivals, gatherings and celebrations, parties, and even on deathbed—shows how important it is.
But what people do not know is that the importance of music in our lives is not simply for enjoyment. In fact, it goes beyond that. Whether it is for adults, students, and even toddlers and children, music plays an integral and positive role that usually provides long-term benefits.
The Different Ways Music Can Benefit You
As mentioned, music offers varying use in all stages of a human’s life. From early childhood to adulthood, its influence ranges from emotional and mental to physiological growth. In fact, it is used as a therapeutic intervention among other clinical therapies.
That being said, I enumerated below the different positive effects of music on toddlers, kids, and teens, as well as on adults.
Music for a Child’s Early Development
As early as infancy, humans can recognize beat, rhythm, and melody—or music, to put it plainly. And such a phenomenon is not simply natural as it happens to be crucial given that it serves a lot of purposes.
That said, here are the top four benefits of music to toddlers’ emotional and physiological development.
1. Accelerates brain development. Music provides a significant benefit in a child’s brain development. A study published under Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience reveals that music education quickens the maturation of the auditory pathway in the brain. And as a result, it increases its efficiency. The study was conducted by USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) for five years. And throughout the said period, they discovered that the participants’ mental agency has improved, particularly in the areas of reading and language acquisition. Moreover, the National Association for Music Merchants has also conducted research, in which they found out that children who undergo music training—instrument playing, specifically—has seen improved mathematical learning.
2. Improves hand-eye coordination. Aside from speeding up brain development, children that are exposed to music have better hand-eye coordination. In short, music helps a child’s motor skills. The research titled “The Effects of Musical Training on Structural Brain Development” shows that children who underwent musical training or is exposed to music have improved finger motor skills. Their brain scans also showed structural brain differences, specifically in the area where motor processing—as well as auditory—is connected.
3. Helps develop their vocabulary. Apart from motor skills, music also helps to improve a child’s vocabulary. In essence, exposing a child to different kinds of music naturally enhances his ability to grasp sounds and words. Different studies suggest that a child that is exposed to music allows children—as well as adults—to enrich their vocabulary. Singing songs such as nursery rhymes make them easier to memorize and learn new words too. Aside from that, it also enhances their linguistic sensitivity, specifically through listening to songs in multiple languages.
4. Builds the child’s skills for school readiness. Aside from physiological and academic benefits, music can also help toddlers and children cope up in school by helping them build and solidify skills for school readiness. Essentially, it ignites the areas of the brain that prompt social preparedness and emotional readiness such as the ability to make new friends, independence, enthusiasm for learning, as well as the ability to respect others. And both are crucial, according to a study prepared by Bright Horizons.
Music for Adults
Music is not only beneficial for kids and toddlers! It also helps adults in a lot of ways.
Here are a few examples:
1. It improves your well-being. Holistically, music can help improve a person’s overall wellbeing. It can, for example, reduce stress and anxiety. Several studies show that music stimulates the part that releases dopamine to our brain. And dopamine—also known as happy hormones—is a neurotransmitter that handles our mood or emotional state and has effects that relieve pain and stress. In short, listening to music lifts your spirits when you are down! Other than that, if you are an anxious type of person, listening to music before a big performance or an important event could also help you calm down. And such an effect is also linked to dopamine.
2. It helps your creative juices flow. If you are a creative type of person, listening to songs can also benefit you. Whether you are a musician, an artist, a writer, or a dancer, music can help your creative juices flow!
3. It has therapeutic effects on the brain. Music has also therapeutic effects on the brain. But that is not surprising at all since—if you have not heard yet—music therapy is a thing. That said, this therapeutic effect is called “entrainment.” According to Cummins (2009), entrainment is a trait that is crucial when brain rhythms interact with each other. It also “refers to the coupling of two independent oscillatory systems in such a way that their periods of oscillation become related by virtue of phase alignment.” To put it plainly, it helps your body’s natural rhythm to synchronize with external stimuli like sound and light. This then aids with different emotional and physical problems such as Post Traumatic Disorder (PTSD), stress and anxiety, and the autism spectrum. Stroke patients are seen to recover quickly when exposed to music too, compared to those who are not.
4. It helps elders with poor memory. Listening to music is beneficial to elders with a poor memory as well. As we all know, ageing naturally often comes with slow and inferior memory. On a good note, scientists found that listening to a musical piece for more than ten minutes has helped enhance the participating elders’ memory. Those who continuously listened for six weeks has shown great progress on verbal tests. But not only that. People with dementia can also benefit from listening to music. Studies suggest that music therapy has positive influences on people suffering from dementia as well as Alzheimer’s disease. Playing their favorite songs apparently can evoke memories, which in return helps them remember people he knows such as family remembers, relatives, and friends.
Music Creates Community
Communities foster themselves through music. Think of every time you’ve seen the national anthem performed. The anthem evokes individuals’ sense of belonging to a specific place through a song. This sense of belonging is an example of using music to build community.
There are many ways music defines and fortifies communities. Let’s explore some of the characteristics of music in community building and how those characteristics help us better understand music’s importance in communities.
Music is a universal language. While this is an oft-cited and cliche statement, it rings true. Just because you can’t play an instrument or read sheet music doesn’t mean that you can’t understand the organized rhythms and melodies it contains. This ability makes music the very definition of a universal language: one that you don’t have to speak to understand.
This universal quality enables music to be enjoyed by all, regardless of creed, culture, or country. The ability to break such boundaries allows new communities to form the world over. From K-Pop groups breaking big in America to Hip-Hop’s massive influence in Japan, music is a shared expression of community.
Whether playing music in bands or listening to it in concert halls, we create massive social networks through it. Musicians play in bands or ensembles, allowing them to meet others and build networks of individuals for friendship or work. These networks grow over time through the internet or touring and cultivate worldwide creative networks.
Likewise, fans create networks based on their mutual love of artists by going to shows and meeting fellow fans. Relationships such as these can lead to fan clubs, music magazines, and message boards. In some cases, entire communities, also known as “scenes,” are created by these social networks. The influential New York punk scene of the 1970s is an enduring example of such a group.
Music has historically played an important role in cultures across the world. Though the purpose may change throughout the centuries, there is no denying that music has shaped each culture that makes up humanity. Because of this, we not only understand ourselves better but lean upon the very music that fostered us to celebrate ourselves.
Music Enhances Brain Function
Music helps to stimulate the brain in many ways, activating nearly every single one of its regions. For this reason, we have studied the effect that music has on the brain extensively. Though it isn’t always clear how exactly the brain is “hearing” music (it processes music as electric signals), we see without a doubt that music influences some of the most vital functions of the brain.
According to studies, childhood musical experiences can accelerate brain development. In particular, language and reading skills improve markedly when a child learns or interacts with music from a young age.
Though not always a childhood favorite, those early violin or piano lessons certainly pay off. The younger a child is when first exposed to music, the earlier they experience the developmental benefits of music.
Because music activates both hemispheres of your brain at once, it has the power to maximize the techniques necessary for effectively focusing. Studies show that music helps to improve the brain’s ability to pay attention. This improvement is why students, athletes, and even surgeons use music to help focus themselves during their tasks.
The hippocampus is the region of the brain that controls memory. Music has a strong effect on this region. Studies with Alzheimer’s patients show that music helps the patient recall memories, sometimes even regain previously lost abilities to speak or dance. More recently, scientists have found a link between music and an increase in creating new memories.
Music Improves Physical Health
Though much of what makes music important is cerebral, there are also many physical benefits of listening to music. Great music has the ability to move people, and that physical pull has real physical effects. Let’s take a look at what music can do for your body.
Researchers have found that listening to music increases the body’s production of immune-boosting hormones. Cells designed to attack invading viruses increase in numbers with music, and the immune system becomes more effective as a result. Because of these studies, playing music during medical procedures is becoming more common.
Most people have probably experienced motivation at the gym or while out jogging when an energetic song they love pops up on their playlist. This motivation is because music increases your capacity for physical work. Your endurance, power, and strength increase while simultaneously your fatigue is delayed.
Researchers have studied the correlation between music and cardiovascular health for forty years. Study after study finds that music can lower blood pressure, thus alleviating stress. One caveat: music can also raise your heart rate. Current studies are focused on specific sounds and tempos that yield heart-healthy results.
Music Improves Mental Health
Because music has an outsized impact on the brain, it stands to reason that it would also have a significant effect on mental health. Listening to music releases the chemical dopamine into the brain, which is associated with feelings of pleasure. As a result, music therapy has become an emerging practice in the mental health profession.
Music therapy is often used to treat anxiety and has well-documented results. By guiding patients through a session where they play or actively listen to music, therapists can foster the relaxing qualities of music with the dopamine release to mitigate anxiety.
Like anxiety, depression has also seen an uptick in treatment by using music therapy. By interacting with music in a therapeutic setting, patients have shown improved communication, social skills, and interactive skills.
Aside from therapy, people report improvement in mood after simply listening to music. Songs can help the listeners feel less alone or validated in their experiences. In some cases, the benefits come after listening to music that fortifies a listeners’ mood. In others, it comes after listening to songs that attempt to lift their mood.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
As we explored earlier, music is often a trigger for lost or repressed memories through its relation to the hippocampus. In music therapy sessions with those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), conjuring up memories through music plays an important role. Through music, patients can assess and process these repressed memories with the help of a therapist during the healing process.
Music is indeed a crucial part of our daily lives. From its entertaining effects to emotional and physiological benefits, spending your time listening to songs or playing an instrument would not be a waste. That said, the next time you feel sad or lonely, simply put your headphones on listening to some good music!
We know that music is a fun and creative tool of expression that permeates all cultures. In exploring music’s relation to our lives, we find it has a physical effect on our bodies, particularly our brains.
Music affects our cognitive functions on almost every level. This influence makes music vital because it can change people. Music’s power to augment our human experience, even change it, is what makes music important.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.