If you've ever been in a dueling piano bar, heard Pomp and Circumstance at a graduation or listened as a vocalist sings Amazing Grace at a memorial service, you've likely experienced the impact of music on your mood.
Hearing a specific song can transport you to a different time and place. It can lull you to sleep, pump you up, or make you happy and nostalgic. "Music is an innate part of human nature," says Gregory Barkley, M.D., a neurologist at Henry Ford Health. "It activates multiple areas of the brain at one time and can impact both body and mind."
Music And The Mind
Human beings are innately wired for rhythm. Our heart beats at a rhythmic pace and we walk with a certain cadence. The reason, in part, is because of four key ways music interacts with our mind.
- Emotion: Music plays on our emotions. A song with a steady, upbeat tempo can bring a huge high while a moody tune with a somber melody can make you feel sad. "The way a careful composer and performer emphasizes these jumps and drops in the tones can really appeal to the emotions," Dr. Barkley says. "An evocative piece of music can make people cry or smile every time they hear it."
- Memory: Music also taps into the memory centers of the brain. "If you had a special song with your first love, you probably still think about them every time you hear that song," Dr. Barkley says. "That's because those songs are forever linked to that person in your memory banks."
- Learning: Whether you're teaching children to stand in line or learn language, music is a powerful tool. Since music works in those emotional and memory centers of the brain, new information is better learned and retained through harmony. That's one reason we use a song to help children learn their ABCs.
- Connection: If you've ever played in a band or belted out, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” with other fans, chances are you've experienced the connection that happens when you're making music with another human. In fact, studies show music helps bond people together.
If you're intentional about the music you choose to play, you can shift your mood in minutes. You can even use music to encourage movement, or for pacing at work or during a workout.
"Playing music may help lift people's spirits, particularly if the songs are familiar," Dr. Barkley says. "Because music has a repetitive quality to it, it can be soothing, even for people who suffer from mental health issues and neurological problems."
Music is healing. It can help you focus your thoughts, calm your mind or ramp yourself up. "Whether you want something meditative or an energizing beat that fires you up, music can be instrumental in helping you achieve your goals," Dr. Barkley says.
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Dr. Gregory Barkley is a neurologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.