6 Profound Ways Music Improves Our Lives
Music is an art and a business.
But it’s more: music delivers a stupendous array of benefits to nearly every aspect of our lives. Whether you create and perform music, or you work in the industry that delivers music to billions of people around the world, you are sharing a profound gift.
Most of us became a part of the music industry because we love music. But over time, we can lose our wonder at just how much music adds to our lives and the lives of others. From the dramatic improvements music therapy brings to the lives of Alzheimer’s patients, to the permanent benefits of learning to play a musical instrument, to the simple joy of a beautiful song, music affects all of us.
Today, we’ve collected a set of studies that help illustrate just how dramatic the benefits of music are.
Learning a Musical Instrument
Learning a musical instrument improves cognitive & non-cognitive skills more than sports, theater, or dance.
Everyone knows that music can sharpen your mental abilities. But, surprisingly, a study performed by Adrian Hille and Jürgen Schupp for the German Socioeconomic Panel found that music also enhances a staggering array of non-cognitive abilities.
Their study demonstrated that musical training improves:
- School achievement & behavior
- Social skills
- Feelings of well-being
All this, plus the well-studied cognitive benefits of musical training!
But perhaps the most interesting finding of this study was that musical training improves these measures up to twice as much as sports, dance, or theater. Studies like this are important to ensure that societies invest in musical education for young students. In America, the arts are perennially at risk of reduced funding in favor of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics classes or expensive sports teams.
If you are interested in a career in music education, you’ll be delighted to see all the ways your work will help your students.
The benefits of musical training persist for years, even after you’ve stopped.
Musical training carries enormous benefits, but how long do they last?
Nina Kraus and Erika Skoe, writing for the Journal of Neuroscience, found that three years of musical training as a child delivers permanent cognitive benefits throughout adulthood. Of course, more musical training is even better (as we’ll see later in this article), but in this study, three years seemed to be the threshold for permanent effects. Most of the study’s subjects had stopped music lessons at least seven years before.
Musical training becomes even more important in this light. A relatively short period of training can deliver benefits ranging from cognitive ability to social skills throughout a child’s life.
Learning a musical instrument helps you stay cognitively sharp into old age.
As students reach old age, their musical training has even more to offer. In a study published in Neuropsychology, Brenna Hanna-Pladdy demonstrated that the cognitive benefits of musical training extend across your entire lifetime.
Hanna-Pladdy studied a group of 70 adults between 60 and 83 years old, none of whom had a cognitive disease like Alzheimer’s. All the subjects had similar levels of education and fitness. She divided the subjects into three groups: a high, low, or no amount of musical training. Then, each subject took a series of cognitive tests.
The extent of the patient’s musical training correlated almost perfectly with their cognitive ability late in life. The trained musicians were sharper than their peers, and the more training they had, the sharper they were.
Music is a powerful antidote to cognitive decline as we age.
Listening to Music
Listening to ambient music at moderate levels can improve your creativity.
Music can improve your creativity.
In 2012, Ravi Mehta, Rui Zhu, and Amar Cheema presented a set of three studies in the Journal of Consumer Research that demonstrated this effect. In their studies, they played ambient sounds at low, moderate, and high levels while participants tried to come up with creative ideas. The control group was played nothing at all.
In every study, participants in the moderate-level condition came up with significantly more creative ideas than the other participants.
There is a concept in cognition, called ‘disfluency,’ that describes how difficult it feels to perform a task. Try to repeat a passage in a foreign language, and you’ll experience high disfluency; read a simple passage in your own language, and you’ll experience fluency. Ordinarily we love the experience of fluency — but being too comfortable can hurt creativity.
When you play a moderate level of ambient noise, your brain busies itself trying to parse the sound. That makes other tasks that you are working on feel more difficult, and this leads you to focus more deeply on the task at hand. But play music too loudly, and the effect is lost — your brain is too distracted and your creativity falls away.
Curious to try this out for yourself? Be careful with what music you choose! Music with catchy hooks and melodies is as distracting as louder noise, so your best bet is instrumental music. I prefer jazz or deep house while working. Others have great success with apps like Brain FM which are designed to play in the background and help you think while you perform other tasks.
Music dramatically increases physical performance, both through higher motivation and physical changes in the body.
Music is far from just a mental booster. Athletes turn to music to help them lift more, run faster, and fight harder. Costas Karageorghis, a leading psychologist studying music and exercise, once called music “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”
For low and moderate intensity exercise, music helps distract from feelings of pain, boredom, and tiredness. It’s a similar effect to how moderate noise improves creativity — the slight distraction is enough to help you push harder.
For high-intensity exercise, however, it’s the mood-boosting effects of music that help most. Elevated mood helps you persevere, and can especially help in gathering energy to push through short, extra difficult exercises like heavy lifts.
Music therapy can profoundly improve quality of life for medical patients.
Music can be used to increase our own performance, but is especially powerful when used to help others. Music therapists specialize in delivering these benefits to patients — often when no other treatment is able to help. Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of music therapy — here’s just a short sample:
- Music therapy helps people with schizophrenia improve their mental state and functioning with a sufficient number of sessions.
- It helps adolescents suffering depression relieve stress and negative emotions, and boosts brain areas associated with positive emotions.
- It helps pre-adolescents with behavioral problems significantly improve on measures of aggressive behavior.
- Music therapy helps Alzheimer’s patients improve in conversation and participation in social events.
Music therapy is one way that music stretches beyond art and performance improvements and makes a tangible difference in patients’ lives.
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