The effects of music on a human being are various and important. The effects of creating music are particularly beneficial.
by Kirsten Van Dam
I think my siblings would concur that the sketchiest music we were exposed to when we were young was the Chicken Dance because it says the very crude word “butt.” Seeing small children today rapping Macklemore or selections of a similar nature is quite alarming, as is the general attitude of younger generations. We could lay blame to poor upbringing or scapegoat the music industry, and perhaps these are viable factors. However, I think that we view music from a limited perspective. We don’t realize how harmful it can be, saying it’s “just music.” Music is a powerful tool that can either be beneficial or damaging and manipulating.
Music can tune into our emotions. Simon Frith, a sociomusicologist explains that music doesn’t make you feel a certain way, but “You do have an aesthetic appreciation of the emotion and rehearse ways of being in that emotion.” Numerous studies identified a correlation between sound wave frequency and its impressions on the listener. Some frequencies are found to put people at ease and make them more accepting. Songwriters create lyrics with controversial messages and pair them with these frequencies, practically manipulating society. Music can also induce fear. The trend with organs, for example, is to lengthen their pipes so long they produce infrasound, a frequency so low it is undetectable by the human ear. This emits suspenseful, sorrowful, cold, and anxious emotions, sending shivers down your spine. Some scientists speculate infrasound’s impact transcends emotion and could actually cause physical harm.
Playing an instrument makes your brain process different information simultaneously in an intricate, interrelated way at an astonishing rate.
Luckily, music can also be used to positively enhance your life. Music can improve memory, increase athletic performance, help you sleep, bring comfort, and increase the effectiveness of studying (specifically, listening to songs without lyrics furthers comprehension during study). Music also holds long term benefits. Recently the Mozart Effect was a topic of conversation. There are some variations in name, substituting Mozart with another classical composer, but this is how it is most commonly referenced. By introducing children at a young age to Mozart’s compositions, it was observed that they had more academic success, particularly in mathematics. They also developed more mature spatial skills, memory, and even grew up to be physically healthier than the average child. Parents jumped on this asset, playing Mozart’s music for babies to hear beginning at pregnancy. Clearly something about music taps into our subconscious.
What’s better than listening to advantageous music is creating it. Growing up in a musical family I can see the benefits of playing music. Playing an instrument makes your brain process different information simultaneously in an intricate, interrelated way at an astonishing rate. This rouses the audio, visual, and motor skills areas of the brain. Yet the biggest difference between listening and playing music is the fine motor skills required. This is controlled by both hemispheres of the brain, combining linguistic and mathematical precision. The area it affects is called the corpus callosum, which bridges the two halves. Playing music transfers messages through the corpus callosum by faster and more diverse routes. Analyzing and displaying emotion is a large part of playing music and correlates to musicians having higher levels of executive function. Singing is also very enhancing. Singing incorporates the perfect levels of endorphins (creating pleasure) and oxytocin (alleviating stress and anxiety). Singing improves mood and has a surprising relation to cardiac health. Creating music is a valuable and powerful way to improve brain function.
Although music can be manipulative and bring about negative emotions, it can be used for good. So, encourage others to listen to and create stimulating music. It is important to inform those around you and broaden their minds about this tool because music definitely has impact and should be chosen wisely.
Photo: Charles Bowling conducts Westland Orchestra by Woodley Wonderworks on Flickr