Author: Khwaish Sethiya
Editors: Vincent Chang and Angela Lin
Artists: Denise Suárez
Music stimulates different parts of the brain. Learn about the different effects of different genres!
Music is an integral part of everyday life. Whether we are winding down after a long day, dancing at a party, trying to set the mood, or even studying, our earphones are often complementary accessories. Any genre of music we listen to activates areas in our brain. Depending on an individual's experiences and training, each brain gets activated differently, but there is no doubt that music stimulates the human brain.
The passage of processing music involves nerve impulses from the ear to the auditory cortex. Music processing takes place in the cochlea, also known as the inner ear, where the impulse is transmitted along the auditory nerve to the auditory cortex in the temporal lobe. The ear converts the sound waves into signals that the brain can interpret and further process. The pinna, the externally visible part of the ear, transmits sound waves to the ear canal. The sound amplifies in the canal. As these sound waves get transmitted, the eardrum vibrates too. The cochlea, filled with fluid that stimulates several nerve endings, takes these vibrations and converts them to electrical impulses. These electrical impulses can then be processed as they move to the brain via the auditory nerve.
Looking at the different parts of the brain, we can understand how each reacts to music. The frontal lobe is associated with thinking, decision-making, and planning. These become more enhanced when listening to music. In the frontal lobe, the prefrontal cortex, Broca’s area, and the motor cortex are stimulated when music plays. The prefrontal cortex gets activated when the brain begins to analyze and interpret rhythms. Broca’s area is associated with language and speech; the lyric parts of songs actuate this. The temporal lobe is crucial for the understanding and interpretation of music. Cortices for speech and language are also found here. This contains the auditory cortex and Wernicke’s area. When the ear needs to analyze the pitch and volume of sound waves, the auditory cortex plays an important role. Wernicke's area is crucial for language comprehension and understanding written notes; for example, when a musician is playing a melody using the music sheet. The occipital lobe is necessary for processing what we see and involves the visual cortex. The visual cortex reacts to music by producing images associated with the memory with that specific tune. The cerebellum is needed to coordinate movement and physical memory while also analyzing rhythms. This is important as the muscle memory in musicians does not fade out. The nucleus accumbens is an important part of the brain that connects with music. It is the part that seeks pleasure and reward and is associated with the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter and chemical messenger crucial for motivation and reward systems, that occurs when someone listens to music. The amygdala is required for the processing and triggering of emotions associated with music. In the hippocampus, music can help with neurogenesis: the production of new neurons. This helps improve memory. The hypothalamus, the region responsible for keeping homeostasis, reacts by reducing heart rate and blood pressure when we listen to pleasurable music. The corpus callosum allows for coordination between the left hemisphere, associated with logic, and the right, associated with intuition. Lastly, the putamen, a region in the brain, processes rhythm, body movement and can temporarily stop Parkinson’s disease when the patient listens to that music.
The effects of playing and listening to music can best be understood by analyzing a musician's brain. They usually have a bigger and more sensitive brain. Their auditory skills and cognitive flexibility are high as areas for auditory processing and cognitive flexibility are larger. They also have a larger corpus callosum and enhanced abilities. Listening to music lowers the stress hormone cortisol while stimulating the brain hormone oxytocin, which decreases delirium and anxiety. Listening to music also increases brain growth in spheres involving learning, memory, and auditory processing.
Different genres of music also help different sections of the brain. Classical music enables dopamine secretion, synaptic function, learning, and memory. Heavy metal allows a sense of identity. Rap music, on the other hand, stimulates emotion, motor function, and language processing. Pop/rock enhances endurance and physical performance. Lastly, jazz often helps in soothing and calming the brain.
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