Music and the brain

By Nora Doyle

Image by Thrive Global

Why can listening to your favorite song sometimes cheer you up like nothing else? Why can we remember all the lyrics to a song we haven’t listened to in years, but not math formulas?

Professors at the University of Central Florida have been trying to answer questions like these for a long time. They explore how music impacts brain function and human behavior, including by reducing stress, pain, and symptoms of depression, as well as improving cognitive and motor skills.

These professors say that these reactions on the brain can be seen on an MRI. Professor Kiminobu Sugaya says, “Lots of different parts of the brain light up.”

Music affects different parts of the brain in different ways according to this study by the UCF professors. For the temporal lobe, which processes what we hear, professor Ayako Yonetani says that this part of the brain allows us to appreciate and enjoy music. Have a favorite song? This part of the brain is what likes it.

Music affects the Broca’s area, which enables us to produce speech. This is because playing an instrument may improve one’s ability to communicate. This is where we express music.

In the Wernicke’s area, where we comprehend written and spoken language, we simply enjoy the music through analyzing it. Analyzing lyrics, instrumentals, and tunes helps us enjoy a song.

In the optical lobe, which processes what we see, professor Sugaya says, in short, that musicians visualize cords and notes as they perform.

As for the cerebellum, which coordinates movement and stores physical memory, Sugaya says “An Alzheimer’s patient, even if he doesn’t recognize his wife, could still play the piano if he learned it when he was young because playing has become a muscle memory. Those memories in the cerebellum never fade out,” which is probably the most incredible thing that music can do to the brain! Muscle memory is a term that is also used in sports, like dance, because we also connect music to movement when it is choreographed.

The remaining parts of the brain are affected by music through translating notes from our brain to our fingers while playing an instrument.

There is the fact that music can be addictive like a drug. When I hear a song for the first time and love it, I want to play it over and over again. Also, songs are addictive in the way that they get stuck on our heads.

So, next time you listen to music, think of all the ways it’s affecting your brain!

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