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How Listening To New Music Improves Brain Function

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

I've got good news and bad news.

Let’s start with the good shall we?

Not many things can stimulate your mind, body and soul the way music does. The experts at John Hopkins agree, and research has proven that tuning into your favorite band can reduce anxiety, ease depression, help you sleep, lower your blood pressure and here is an interesting one; improve your memory.

Can anyone tell me why I walked into the kitchen??

Let’s talk about that last one a little bit more. I've always known music is great, always had a deep connection to it but how can it improve our memory? I could really use help with this because ten seconds later I’ve almost forgotten the question I just asked.

I’m in my 40’s, I have 4 kids, we all have a lot going on. If it wasn’t for my Passion Planner I wouldn’t know what I was doing from day to day. If the kids don’t have their schedules to me by Sunday night no one gets a ride and it is not at all unusual for me to walk into the kitchen and then yell “Does anyone know why I just came in here!?”

If this resonates with you keep reading.

Let’s get scientific.

Two professors from The University of Southern Florida, one a Neuroscientist Dr. Sugya and the other esteemed violinist Ayako Yonetani have been teaching a very popular honors course, “Music and the Brain.” This course delves into how music impacts the brain's function and our behavior. The class goes further to discuss how stress is released when listening to music as well as its power to alleviate depression symptoms. The Professors explain how physical pain can be reduced, motor skills can be improved and how the brain's ability to produce neurons is affected which directly impacts patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's Disease.

According to these experts “multiple parts of the brain light up while listening to music.” This can be witnessed by MRI on late stage and usually unresponsive Alzheimer’s patients. As soon as they start listening to what had always been “their favorite” music, the brain lights up on the MRI and so do their eyes. Take note that I said “their Favorite music” - The Mozart Theory has long since been debunked. Some of these patients who haven’t spoken in a very long time even start to sing along and continue more surprisingly after the music stops. This, explains Sugaya indicates “memories associated with music are emotional memories and never fade out.” Think “The Notebook” - What brought Allie back from her fog? It wasn’t just the words in that tattered notebook Noah read the story of their lives from. It was their song “I’ll Be Seeing You”, that’s when her eyes lit up with recognition.

The bad news: Brought to you by Ariana Grande and her song “Thank you, Next”

This child star turned singer, most famous for her role on a popular kid’s show has been irritating me with her high pitched voice since my girls were under 10. Now she is able to reach my ears by way of song and I agree completely, Next! For the love of all that’s holy can we please be done with this song? It sounds like she’s saying “Bacon and eggs” throughout the song and I don’t think I can stomach listening to it one more time. I’m clearly not the only one as this monstrosity made the 2018’s top 10 list of most annoying songs.

Now here's the kicker, listening to this stuff is beneficial for our brains. Believe me, I was appalled at first as well. I listen to music of substance. Music where the lyrics tell a story, mean something, where they were written by lyrical geniuses. Ya know, the kind of music where you had to have talent to survive and it didn’t matter how cute you were. But apparently letting my 12 year old have her way with the car radio is - good for me.

Say it isn't so.

What cardio and weights is to the body, music is to the brain. Apparently as far as improving our memory the newer the better. Much like math, our brain treats music like an equation. It pieces it together in algebraic fashion and we enjoy the end result as music to our ears.

New music however, "challenges the brain in a way that old music doesn't." Says experts at John Hopkins Medicine. Just like my mother before me, I complain that most of what I hear today lacks substance or originality. Often I say it's even painful to endure. Still the experts insist that although "it might not feel pleasurable at first", due to the fact that it's unfamiliar it will force our brains to work harder to compute the new sound.

Try it. You might like it.

Ok maybe not - but if you listen to what your kids or grandkids are listening to you may just stop needing to leave yourself Post-It notes to remember everyday activities. That and you will have some horror stories to tell your friends the next time you're out for drinks.

If you are of the sort who listens to the top 40 your new music may be jazz from the 60’s. If you are accustomed to Country, try metal. If you strictly listen to new music give some classical a chance or perhaps dig through your grandparents old vinyl and enjoy the soothing scratchy sounds of an era gone by. The point is, make your brain say “what the hell is going on out there?” and you may stop needing to set reminders on your phone for every upcoming activity you have.

Disclosure notice: If you get any of those tunes stuck on a loop in your head, I cannot be held responsible.



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