The Influence of Music on Neurons
The Influence of Music on Neurons Anisha Chirmule Luciano Pavarotti once said “if children are not introduced to music at an early age, I believe something fundamental is actually being taken from them”. People are surrounded by music everyday; it affects mood, concentration, creativity, and even the ability to learn. How can a combination of a few notes have such a profound effect an on individual’s ability to learn? When in infant is born, there are billions of nerves and nerve connections in the brain that are necessary for survival. These neural connections are formed through experiences and strengthened through repetition. An infant is exposed to new situations everyday that affect the nerves in their brain, and once these connections are formed it is very difficult to reverse or rewire them. Listening to music helps to create and strengthen more neural connections because nerves that deal with the auditory system of the brain are being activated in order to hear the music (1). Music is a stimulus that needs to be processed by the brain because we have receptors for sensing and reacting to music. The act of processing this stimulus influences the neural connections in the brain and therefore affects other neural connections which in turn affect the outputs of the body. The Mozart effect is a phenomenon that states when an individual listens to short bursts of music, their intellectual and motor abilities increase and become more efficient (2). It has a profound effect on young children because their minds are still developing at a rapid rate and their neural pathways are easily influenced. The music composed by Mozart has a 60 beat per minute pattern that is repeated throughout his pieces. This pattern activates the action potentials in the right and left hemispheres of the brain and it strengthens the connections between the neurons that connect the two halves. Strengthening of the neural connections leads to more efficient information processing because the brain must concentrate on comprehending multiple stimuli and it therefore becomes capable of multitasking. The ductility of an infant’s brain must be utilized to its fullest potential, because unused nerves are rendered useless.
As a musician, I wonder whether or not learning to read music affects the outputs of my nervous system. Learning to read music is like learning a new language. The syntax and semantics must be mastered in order to attain fluency. In order to learn read music, new neural pathways must be formed for the brain to comprehend what it is reading. These new pathways would affect the pre-existing connections and therefore many other outputs of the nervous system would be affected. Reading music increases creativity and the plasticity of neural connections because an individual must think in another mindset to understand what is presented. The plasticity is affected because not only do new neural connections need to be formed based on new experiences and stimuli, but the old pathways need to be remembered as well.
The brain has the ability to sense the happiness and sadness of music. When the tone and tempo of music is altered, different portions of the brain are stimulated which have neural connections that detect the happiness or sadness of the song (3). The effect of music on the neural connections varies from person to person but certain areas of the brain do become active when different types of music are played. Processing different rhythms, tones, melodies, requires multiple areas of the brain to be active. To understand music, its components must be broken down and processed by different areas of the brain (4). The process of breaking down a piece of music utilizes many neural pathways which results in one large output of the nervous system.
William Shakespeare once wrote, “If music be the food for love, play on”. Well, I say if music be the food for new neural pathways and increased intellectual abilities, by all means, play on.
1) http://www.tinylove.com/article.aspx?articleId=29 ; Your baby needs music
2) http://www.cerebromente.org.br/n15/mente/musica.html ; Music and the Brain
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=16317338&query_hl=9&itool=pubmed_docsum ; Brain regions involved in the recognition of happiness and sadness in music.
4) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=17315101&query_hl=22&itool=pubmed_docsum ; Music and Neurology