Since time immemorial, music has long been used to help lift spirits, mend hearts and even heal bodies. Recently there has been much interest in whether general musical activities led by someone other than a music therapist could also enhance psychological states.
There can be various reasons for why we prefer listening to certain types of music; these depend on factors like culture, past experiences and associations.
1. Increased Focus
Music can be an enormous distraction while studying or working, prompting you to check Facebook or grab a snack every few minutes. But the right type of music can actually help you focus and accomplish more!
Research suggests that certain kinds of music can increase productivity and cognitive performance when studying, specifically spatial-temporal reasoning and problem solving. One study concluded that music could enhance this process while another found rhythm with or without musical accompaniment can facilitate recall of text.
When selecting music to assist with study, try selecting low-volume instrumental pieces that aren’t too fast or loud, with no surprising or experimental pieces as these could potentially distract your brain. Also make sure there are no lyrics as this can become distracting very quickly. A small 2021 study demonstrated how listening to soothing piano and flute music reduced systolic blood pressure significantly which helped lower stress hormones significantly; reminding us all of our common human responses to music regardless of culture differences.
2. Reduced Anxiety
Music can help reduce anxiety and stress levels by slowing your heart rate and decreasing cortisol production (a stress hormone). By relaxing nervous system activity, music can ease tension while increasing feelings of calm.
Studies demonstrate that listening to soft music improves cognitive performance. This may be attributed to its effect on our mood and level of arousal; thus, helping us learn and process information faster.
Music can help alleviate stress, depression and anger in equal measure. Be wary of music’s mood-altering effects; use it only as an aid for self-care rather than validating negative emotional states. If you find yourself stuck in one, consult a mental health professional as studies comparing people from Canada with members of an isolated Congolese tribe demonstrated they reacted physiologically in similar ways when listening to music regardless of culture differences.
3. Improved Memory
Studies show that playing music, whether through learning an instrument or singing, helps strengthen various brain pathways and networks related to well-being, memory, cognitive function, quality of life and happiness. This is due to it stimulating almost all regions and networks at once as opposed to activities which only stimulate certain areas.
Music can also help improve focus and learning ability. According to one study, students studying with background music performed 75% better than those studying alone or in silence. Although different genres of music may work better; classical is usually best.
Listening to music may also help boost memory, especially if it contains lyrics. Studies have revealed that people with memory loss often remember song lyrics stored in parts of the brain not affected by dementia and Alzheimer’s; so listening to your favorite tunes can be an excellent way to jog your memory, even if you don’t play an instrument or sing.
4. Reduced Stress
As music stimulates our brain and boosts mood and arousal levels, listening, singing or playing musical instruments have been proven to significantly reduce stress levels.
Stress releases hormones like cortisol into our body. While cortisol can be helpful when we face physical threats like being chased by an bear, its release in everyday situations may prove counter-productive to mental wellbeing.
Music can help combat these negative emotions. One study concluded that when listening to positive music daily for two weeks, your mood can dramatically improve. Just make sure you avoid heavy metal or genres which might have adverse side-effects.