Updated: Jun 14
Music triggers emotions – this is true in a positive sense whenever you hear that summer hit that you listened to repeatedly on your last summer vacation, as well as in a negative sense whenever you had to endure the heartache of having to listen to the song you shared with your partner. But what else can music evoke in us other than emotions? And is it possible to take advantage of this by playing an instrument yourself?
How does music affect your body?
Even studies have shown that music can have a positive impact on your health.
calming effect: At the Ruhr University in Bochum, researchers observed that simply listening to the melody of Symphony No. 40 in G minor of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart led people to relax, resulting in a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure.
less stress: The stress hormone cortisol decreases significantly when listening to the symphony as well.
beneficial impact on the immune system: Under the direction of Prof. Gunter Kreuz, the University of Oldenburg conducted a study in which choir singers had various of their levels taken before as well as after rehearsal. In the process, Kreuz discovered that the concentration of immunoglobulin A in the blood had increased after the rehearsal. As a result, it could be shown that active music-making has an immune-boosting effect.
increased neuroplasticity: The term neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the human brain to restructure itself. In other words, nerve cells and nerve cell pathways can find different ways than the ones they are familiar with to carry out a particular activity. Thus, healthy regions of the brain can carry out the functions of the damaged areas if, for whatever reason, the brain has suffered irreversible damage, meaning that certain abilities can still be preserved.
uplifting effect: Not only does it lower your cortisol levels but listening to music and actively making music can also release happiness hormones.
sense of togetherness: Regardless of whether it’s listening to musical performances or the process of actively making music, both activities can evoke a sense of togetherness in us. After all, people who make music together need to be able to rely on each other. Because only then can music become what we expect it to be. This trust in one another has a positive effect on people. According to studies conducted by the University of Hanover, this feeling is stronger than among team athletes, seeing as it is all about performance and the achievement of a specific goal.
release of bonding hormones: As you make music, your body releases oxytocin, a bonding hormone that is usually produced when we cuddle or after sex, among other things. Interacting with your children can have the same effect. This is great news for all active musicians – because increased levels of oxytocin can provide us with a positive outlook on life.
improved memory: With the help of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), neuroscientist Lutz Jäncke from the University of Zurich and his team have examined the brain structures of 50 non-musicians and 103 professional musicians and managed to make some astonishing findings. The auditory areas of the two cerebral hemispheres are anatomically and functionally more connected in musicians than in non-musicians. Other brain areas were more strongly interconnected as well. The study found that areas responsible for processing and controlling memories were particularly affected, meaning that people who actively make music are also able to better learn and remember things.
What causes these effects?
Due to the very catchy melodies without the addition of lyrics, classical music, such as that of Mozart, are particularly effective, allowing the listener’s brain to relax, since it doesn’t have to actively focus on the words and their meaning. Instead, it is embraced by gentle sounds. The music reaches your ear, where it touches the finest hair cells which in turn transform these vibrations into electrical impulses, directly affecting the brain stem due to its connection to the vegetative nervous system. As a result, your heartbeat and breathing are influenced in a positive way which helps to reduce stress, seeing as your breathing and heartbeat are indicators to your body of whether you are under stress or not. By breathing faster, your heart beats faster which your body associates with stress.
How is medicine making use of this knowledge?
By now, several physicians have recognized that music is much more than just a succession of tones. It triggers something inside of us and sometimes even gives us access to emotions and memories that we are not able to address consciously. The field of music therapy, which is significantly furthered by Prof. Altenmüller, can take advantage of these connections.
After all, if patients listen to certain types of music or are allowed to play an instrument of their choice, they can express things in a way that they can hardly put into words. Just imagine a child being asked to assign instruments to their family members during a therapy session. This might even allow the child to reveal – without having to use many words – conflicts or certain role allocations that they would otherwise not be able to adequately express.
Music can make even tough-seeming people soft, seeing as it can trigger memories that might make them tear up while a conversation could never have unearthed those emotions.
The healing effect of music
In cooperation with the University of Geneva, Altenmüller also conducted a study to find out if it makes a difference whether you are an active musician or merely a listener. For this purpose, 136 elderly people were examined, half of whom received active music lessons for half a year, while the other group participated in theoretical music lessons. Since active music-making appeals to both the motor skills as well as the auditory center, it was observed that memory performance and understanding of speech were improved in those people who actively played music, in addition to them being able to react faster.
Nowadays, listening to music is also used in therapy for people suffering from dementia because Alzheimer's patients are able to recall the music, leading them to instinctively have emotional reactions. This allows the therapists to reach their patients, even if they hardly have the ability to speak anymore. After all, music accompanies us throughout our entire life. By the 21st week of pregnancy, the unborn child is already forming its auditory center, enabling the fetus to acoustically participate in its environment. In the field of psychosomatics, music has been used to access certain emotions, yielding remarkable results.
Is music also helpful in times of crisis?
In the years 2020 to 2022, we have experienced how fragile our minds can become under certain circumstances. The Corona pandemic and its associated crisis have challenged all of us in different ways – especially emotionally. There have been the measures, the restrictions, and the isolation. In a study conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, people from six countries on three continents were examined.
Between April and May 2020, which was the time of the first major lockdown, they asked people from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, India, and the United States how they used music during the crisis. The results were astonishing: More than half of the participants said they had used music to ease emotional and social stress factors. In this context, it was also interesting to discover how differently music was used:
People who experienced strong negative emotions due to the pandemic tended to use music passively to manage depression, anxiety, and stress. People who would describe themselves as being more positive used music as a means of connecting. In those cases, music served as a replacement for some social interactions that were unavailable due to the pandemic. How this was accomplished is well known: Musicians got creative, using videoconferencing to make music together as a way to connect. By doing so, they created a sense of belonging and community.
So-called "corona music" even emerged, a term used to describe music that was newly composed, written, or edited to reflect the pandemic. This kind of music was and is considered to be helpful by many of those affected because it provides a way of processing complex issues.
What kind of music is especially beneficial?
But do you have to play classical pieces of music by Mozart and the like to achieve a beneficial effect? What if you dislike classical music and are more drawn to raucous tunes like rock or the swinging rhythms of jazz?
First and foremost, making music is about having fun and spending time with others. Thus, it is important to play "your" music since only then will you feel a sense of togetherness. So, if you’re a dedicated rock enthusiast, you can learn to play the violin and be part of a symphony orchestra, however, you’ll never feel the same as you do when actively playing in a rock band. Likewise, if you are fond of classical music, you can expect to experience less of a positive effect by playing jazz than by joining a classical orchestra. Also, you might not want to play an instrument, but rather use your voice to sing.
Without a doubt, music has many positive effects, something that is especially true for making music actively, because it stimulates even more areas of the brain. But above all, music should be fun. If you force yourself to do something that you don’t want to do, it will destroy any positive effects. Just choose something that suits your taste. Which music do you like to listen to? Which music inspires you? Which ability would you like to master?
Think about it for a while. You can also ask one of our teachers about these topics. Perhaps you already have a specific instrument in mind and still have questions about it. Please do not hesitate to contact us.
Sources: https://www.aok.de/pk/magazin/wohlbefinden/entspannung/ist-musik-gesund https://www.ndr.de/ratgeber/gesundheit/Musik-macht-gesund,musik598.html https://www.beobachter.ch/gesundheit/medizin-krankheit/die-macht-der-klange-was-im-korper-passiert-wenn-wir-musik-horen-oder https://www.spektrum.de/news/stress-musik-hilft-durch-krisenzeiten/1898575 https://www.hannoversche.de/wissenswert/einfluss-musik-wohlbefinden