Some people hear music all around them, all day long. Music is often more than lyrical notes; it can be the chirping of birds on a morning walk, the thump of a dog’s tail against the porch, or the mechanical beeps and whirring normal in a city. Instead of waking up and smelling the coffee, what if you wake up and hear the music, too?
What is music? The best answer really depends on who you ask. For some, music is the sound emitted from instruments. Others consider the sound of wind whistling around a mountain to be equally as musical. While different parts of the world may enjoy various types of music, using instruments ranging from common to unique to only found in nature, we are united as a planet by our love for music.
WHAT DOES MUSIC DO FOR OUR BRAINS?
Professional musicians typically spend a lifetime perfecting their chosen craft. Playing music is complicated, and it requires a wide range of sensory and motor skills. Your brain is plastic, which means it can rewire itself or modify existing connections.
Intensive musical training leads to changes in brain structure and function because of this plasticity. The good news is this effect is not limited to young children. Older adults can help preserve white and grey matter in the brain during the natural aging process using skill learning, including music.1
When we listen to music, we don’t simply process sound. Multiple regions in the brain are activated, regions involved in movement, attention, planning and memory. Many researchers believe music was a driving force in human evolution, resulting in improved fitness and increased social bonding.2
A scientific study found evidence that the pleasure we derive from listening to music is associated with the “feel good” hormone called dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain, and it is released when we listen to music. It is a necessary component for human behaviour.3
The benefits of music are not limited to hearing individuals, either. One of the greatest composers of all time, Ludwig van Beethoven, continued to write and play music after losing his hearing. Deaf people may not experience music exactly like people who are hearing, but the plasticity of the brain plays a key part in their experience.
The brain of a deaf person learns to process music and sound in a different way, and vibrations from the floor or bass systems, other sensory cues such as lights and smells, and the enthusiastic explanations from interpreters all contribute to a musical experience.4
PLAY A VARIETY OF MUSIC
Even if you’ve never had any formal training, you can still be a musician. Humming in the shower or tapping a beat on the table counts as music! Learning music is an activity that is proven to be good for your brain, and it’s never too late to pick up an instrument and practice. The variety of music is neverending. You can find nature sounds, instruments you’ve never imaged, or the purest vocals you’ve ever heard with a little searching.
You can listen to nearly anything, but why not try to play? Lessons are available online for almost any instrument imaginable. There are many free tutorials out there on platforms such as YouTube. You can even bring a real-life teacher to your living room using Skype or Facetime.
“As you begin to realise that every different type of music, everybody’s individual music, has its own rhythm, life, language & heritage, you realise how life changes & you learn how to be more open and adaptive to what is around us.”
Yo-Yo Ma, World-Renowned Cellist
BRINGING LEADERSHIP AND MUSIC TOGETHER
As a leader, your days are probably filled with things to do, and you may feel as if you have no time to learn something as demanding as music. You don’t have to become one of the greatest cellists ever, but you can add happiness to your life and perhaps improve brain function as well. If learning an instrument simply isn’t on your agenda, then branch out and find new music types you find interesting.
Music can help you:
- Increase agility. When you practise a musical instrument, you use many areas of your brain to produce the desired result. Even listening to music fires many of these regions, and the downstream effect could mean increased agility in other areas of your life, including leadership and decision making.
- Increase adaptability. Leaders in today’s global economy must be versatile and open to new ideas and cultures. Spending a month in China on business? Explore the rich and ancient history of Chinese music. Wherever you go in the world, there are unique instruments and types of music to discover.
- Bond with others. The implications of music on our social lives is great. Even if you don’t always care for the same kind of music, we are united in our passion for music. Sharing music with others and listening to what they have to offer can help increase your collaboration skills.
No matter your personal musical preferences, music can help your brain stay young and can increase feelings of happiness. Incorporating music into your daily routine can also increase agility and adaptability as a leader.
Music is all around you, and your brain is ready to soak it up, but are you tuned in?
1. Schlaug G. Musicians and music making as a model for the study of brain plasticity. Progress in brain research; 2014;217, 37-55.
2. Bushak L. This is your brain on music: How our brains process melodies that pull on our heartstrings. IBT Media Inc; 2019.
3. Salimpoor VN, Benovoy M, Larcher K, Dagher A, Zatorre RJ. Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature Neuroscience; 2011:14(2).
4. Elaine R. How deaf people experience music. Medium.com; 2017.