From the first phonographs and gramophones to your headphones, music has always had an important place in our lives, whether we play an instrument or we listen to it on full-on blast in our AirPods. Not only is it entertaining but it also has important impacts on our brains.
Pump up the jam
Multiple studies have been conducted to prove the beneficial power of music with neurological degenerescence and diseases like dementia, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Nikki Haddad, a Brigham and Women’s Hospital resident in psychiatry, elaborates on a previous experience while she visited and played music for patients in hospitals and nursing homes:
”You have these patients who are essentially sedated, lying down, eyes closed, not able to communicate, and when you play a song that they recognize from their youth, their eyes light up. They’re sitting up, and they’re smiling. It’s just incredible.”
Indeed, music stimulates and activates distinct parts of the brain (see diagram below). The temporal lobe manages tone and pitch, while the cerebellum’s task is to deal with the management of rhythm, timing and physical movement. The amygdala and hippocampus work in a closely related manner to control emotions and memories and the brain’s reward system is also stimulated.
Put on a show
Interestingly enough, the brain is even more solicited while playing music. If you listen to music in a neutral position (let’s say you are not having a dance battle in your living room), the motor and visual cortices should not be solicited. Playing chords and looking at music sheets require intervention from those cortices. In addition, the hemispheres of the brain have distinct implications; the left deals with linguistic and mathematical precision while the right deals with novel and creative content. The cortices being spread on both hemispheres, activity is increased in the corpus callosum which links the two hemispheres (see diagram below). In addition, musicians have a stronger tendency to tag their memories with how they are feeling, what is the context, and what is the auditory environment. At last, those who have been exposed to a period of music learning have notable enhancements in brain areas compared to others who were not exposed.
I can’t hear you
Music has its perks but sound can damage your hearing capacity. A study conducted in 2020 by Haewon Byeon, revealed that:
Adolescents who were exposed to high noise levels via headphones in a noisy environment had a hearing loss prevalence of 22.6% and adolescents who used earphones 80 minutes or more per day on average had the hearing loss prevalence of 22.3%
With the notable increase of and accessibility to portable listening devices, listening to music at an inadequate volume and for an extended period has been shown to negatively impact hearing, and possibly lead to Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). A safe range of decibels is situated at around 70 decibels. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has created a list that associates frequent ambient sounds with their corresponding decibels:
- Normal conversation: 60-70 dBA
- Movie theater: 74-104 dBA
- Motorcycles and dirt bikes: 80-110 dBA
- Music through headphones at maximum volume, sporting events, and concerts: 94-110 dBA
- Sirens: 110-129 dBA
- Fireworks show: 140-160 dBA
On that note, continue or even start listening to music and playing music! Make sure to adequately protect your ears if you are ever exposed to high noises for an extended time!
Byeon, Haewon. “Associations between Adolescents’ Earphone Usage in Noisy Environments, Hearing Loss, and Self-Reported Hearing Problems in a Nationally Representative Sample of South Korean Middle and High School Students.” PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7837842/. Accessed 19 Feb. 2023
Collins, Anita. “How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain.” Youtube, TED-Ed, 22 Jul. 2023, youtu.be/R0JKCYZ8hng. Accessed 19 Feb. 2023.
Herzog, Kenny. “24 Inventions That Changed Music.” Rolling Stone, 17 Mar. 2014, www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/24-inventions-that-changed-music-16471/victor-orthophonic-victrola-phonograph-1925-222105/. Accessed 19 Feb. 2023.
National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. “Noise-Induced Hearing Loss.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/noise-induced-hearing-loss. Accessed 19 Feb. 2023.
Ruder, Debra Bradley. “Music and the Brain.” Harvard Medical School, Harvard Medical School, hms.harvard.edu/news-events/publications-archive/brain/music-brain. Accessed 19 Feb. 2023.