Music: More than Just Entertainment
What is music? It’s something I listen to when I want to relax or when I want to focus. If I’m missing home, I listen to Bollywood. When it’s Christmas, I listen to carols, both classic and modern. So clearly, I think of music as a source of entertainment. In fact, in both ancient and modern times, music has been a key component of celebrations, like weddings and cultural events. Interestingly, scientific research on music and the brain has shown that music has more benefits than entertainment alone.
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), music therapy can help patients dealing with this neurodegenerative disease in numerous ways. Most of us have had an experience where we hear a song and immediately associate it with a particular moment in time and remember the people we were with. For instance when I hear “Lips of Angel” by Hinder I think about the bus ride home from middle school. Alzheimer’s patients suffer substantial memory loss and therefore, songs significant to them at different points of their life can evoke meaningful memories. For instance, hearing the song played during the first dance at their wedding could help them remember their loved one. Interestingly, even unfamiliar songs can help people coping with Alzheimer’s because they can help create new responses. Music can help people dealing with dementia (a decline in cognitive abilities characteristic of diseases like Alzheimer’s) because it can help them express themselves through gestures, a characteristic that is lost with cognitive decline. For instance, music can spark motor movements in these individuals making it easy for them to dance. The rhythm in music also causes them to swing their arms or tap their toes despite the inability to walk.
Furthermore playing a musical instrument can be advantageous to the developing brain. Studies have shown that when children learn to play various instruments it has a positive impact on different abilities like speech perception and multitasking. For instance, I remember when learning to play the violin I had to get used to dividing my attention between reading the music and paying attention to how I was holding the bow and what notes I was producing with my fingers. In addition, educators believe that learning to play an instrument teaches students skills that can be important for academic success like discipline practice and the process of setting and achieving goals (I know this from personal experience). There are some intriguing studies going on that involve neuroimaging and studies on changes in brain plasticity due to music. Long story short, music can not only entertain you but is good for both the developing and adult brain.
Education and Care: Music – Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
How Playing Music Affects the Developing Brain – George Hicks