Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” He most likely imagined a specific kind of music system, but the sentiment still rings true. Every culture in the world has some kind of musical tradition. Why is music so important to humans? How can music make life better? Here are ten reasons:
#1. Music training improves learning and memory
Learning how to make music has a physical effect on a person. Musicians have more brain grey matter volume in their auditory cortex (which processes sound) and other parts of the brain necessary for playing an instrument. This leads to a higher working-memory load, better auditory-verbal memory, and better auditory attention. People who struggle with auditory learning could boost their skills in this area by learning an instrument.
#2. Music education is great for kids
There’s a mountain of research on how music benefits kids. Studies show that music training develops the left side of the brain, which processes language. Language development is key for learning and social interactions. There’s also evidence that music education can raise a child’s IQ and improve their test scores. When information is tied to music, it’s easier for kids to remember. That’s why many kids learn through songs, like the Alphabet Song.
#3. Music can improve brain health
Researchers have studied music’s effect on the brain for years. Many of the studies are small, but there’s a growing body of evidence showing that music is good for people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Benefits include stress relief, reduced depression and anxiety, and reduced agitation. Music therapy can benefit caregivers, as well, and help dementia patients connect with loved ones.
#4. Music can improve heart health
When music triggers chemical reactions in the brain, it can lead to cardiovascular benefits, as well. Over the years, research has found that music could help blood pressure levels and heart rates return to baseline more quickly after exercise. Music could also help with anxiety in heart attack survivors and help ease anxiety and pain after heart surgery. The music selection matters. For the most benefit, patients should choose their music.
#5. Music can affect sleep (for better or worse)
Many people struggle with relaxing before bed and falling asleep quickly. In a 2019 study, 27 female subjects listened to a control text or music before a 90-minute nap. Researchers concluded that listening to music could improve sleep in some participants. In another study, 50 people listened to either a lyrical or instrumental song before bed. Those in the instrumental group actually experienced worse sleep quality and got the song stuck in their head. This suggests that music could be too stimulating for some people.
#6. Music can help with pain management
Pain is a complex medical issue. Music therapy could help. In a 2016 study in Florida, researchers studied a group scheduled for a lumbar RFL. At the study’s conclusion, the music intervention group experienced a larger pain decrease. While the researchers determined that the difference wasn’t statistically significant, they wondered if it could be clinically important. Other studies support music’s effect on pain. Why does it help? There are a few possibilities, such as music’s ability to help a person breathe rhythmically, relax more easily, and focus on something other than pain.
#7. Music releases the happiness chemical
Research shows a link between music and mood. When you listen to upbeat, positive music, your mood is more likely to follow. For those who are already sad or depressed, sad music can make them feel better. Dopamine could be the reason. Studies show that listening to music you like – even sad music – triggers a release of dopamine in the brain. This happiness chemical, which is also released when you eat, exercise, or have sex, boosts your mood.
#8. Music can help relieve poor mental health symptoms
According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the leading cause of death among 15-29 years old’s. Depression is a leading cause of disability. It’s difficult to pin down exact numbers on mental illness, which is often misunderstood and stigmatized, but it’s a global issue. Music, while it’s not a cure and doesn’t address the root causes of poor mental health, could help ease some of the symptoms. One 2015 study found “music-based activities” helped improve emotional expression, communication, and self-esteem. A 2017 review found “highly convincing results” for music as a potential treatment option for depression symptoms and better quality of life. More research is needed to identify what types of music activities work best and how significant the benefits are.
#9. Music preserves culture and history
While music traditions look very different across the world, many of them go beyond entertainment. Music also protects culture and history. Take the region of western Sahel, which is part of West Africa. Griots, who are born into their position, are responsible for passing down stories. Instruments like the kora (similar to a harp) and the balafon (similar to a xylophone) accompany the spoken word. This tradition has gone on for hundreds of years.
#10. Music strengthens social ties
Music traditions (like the history of griots) are traditions of social connection. By sharing history and values through song, a social group is bonded together. All music is capable of forging bonds. Live music is especially powerful as musicians need to coordinate and cooperate. When this coordination occurs, the brain releases endorphins, making the shared experience pleasurable. Even just listening to music together can forge a social bond as people experience a release of oxytocin, a hormone also present when mothers care for their babies. Studies show that families and peer groups enjoy stronger social cohesion when they listen to music together.