Have you ever heard your “jam” and immediately felt a boost in your mood? That’s music therapy in a nutshell. Maybe a smile spreads across your face and, unknowingly, you start to bounce a little or tap your hands? This is a real physiological effect of music: your entire brain fires away as signals are sent to process the song. Your auditory cortices on both sides of your brain hear the sound; if the song evokes any memories, that’s your pre–fontal cortex and hippocampus recalling them; the emotion that these memories elicit comes from your amygdala and limbic system; and if you find yourself dancing or singing along, that’s your motor and sensory cortex and Broca’s area in the left frontal lobe working.
Does this sound complicated? That’s because it is! Music therapy and the brain are very complicated––researchers have only recently been able to better pinpoint which areas are affected and how. But, what has been common knowledge for many years is that music benefits your health, mood, memory and pain receptors. That’s one reason why music therapy is used on everyone from pre–term babies to the elderly. Let’s have a closer look…
Different music styles can elicit different responses in the body. If you want to get pumped up before a game or an event, you choose high–energy music. If you want to relax, you choose classical or maybe spa-themed tunes.
Music therapy can also help to treat autism, dementia/Alzheimer’s and depression. It’s been used to promote better sleep in those suffering from insomnia. Even babies have demonstrated better feeding and sleeping habits and a calmer demeanor when exposed to soothing music.
But a practice that comes to mind most commonly is that of using music to reduce stress. Numerous studies have concluded that subjects who are given soothing music to listen to for a given period of time saw significantly greater reduction in stress, including a lowered risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Not only did these subjects notice a decrease in stress, they also noticed a decrease in anxiety.
What makes music therapy so amazing is that it’s right at our finger tips. Anyone can start music meditation for 30 minutes a day, two or more days a week. Choose a soothing genre such as classical, instrumental or spa (even if you think pop or rock makes you feel “better,” studies show that classical music sees better stress-relieving results). Plus, no one said you can’t have a glass of wine while you listen. Kick back and relax away.