Updated: Jun 1, 2019
This article is a condensed version of the three articles in the "Music for Life" series. To see the full-length articles in the series, visit https://www.perennialmusicandarts.com/blog/categories/music-for-life.
Music is recognized as a life-affirming activity around the world. Historically, priests, shamans, and medicine men and women used music, especially the voice and drumming, as a way to treat and heal physical, mental, and spiritual illness. The fields of Music Therapy and Sound Healing have grown exponentially in recent years as current psychological and medical research shows how music positively affects our physical and intellectual wellness, as well as our emotional and mental health.
Studying music at any age has lifelong rewards. Music education is repeated proven to be a crucial part of a well-rounded education. Students who study music perform better in all areas. Music is a mentally “global” activity. It is the only activity than stimulates the whole brain. Music works the mathematical, lingual, physical, emotional and spatial parts of our brain.
Those benefits don’t cease when a student leaves school. A recent study conducted at the University of Kansas Medical Center recruited 70 healthy older adults between the ages of 60 and 83, who were grouped based on their levels of previous musical experience, none, low (1-9 years of musical experiences,) and high (those with 10 or more years of previous musical experience.) The researchers measured the non-verbal memory, naming, and executive processes in all the participants. These brain functions are all known to deteriorate with aging. The musicians scored better on cognitive tests than those who had no previous musical training with the highly experienced musicians performing the best.
While beginning an instrument at an elementary school age and singing at a middle school age is ideal, it is never too late to benefit from learning and practicing music. Suzanne Hanser, chair of the music therapy department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston points out, “Music making is linked to a number of health benefits for older adults.”
It may seem daunting to start something new as an adult. However, adults tend to progress more quickly than children due to their greater understanding of the abstract concepts behind music making. Sometimes adults will become frustrated and judge their progress more harshly than younger beginners. It is important to remember that learning music is like training for a marathon. It is a process, and the enjoyment that it brings is the most important part of that process.
1. Deeper Breathing –Those who sing and/or play a wind instrument use a technique known as “diaphragmatic breathing.” Even musicians who play non-wind instruments instinctively breathe along with their playing. This type of breathing allows for natural, deep breaths like the type of breathing that yogis and meditators use. Deep breathing strengthens our lungs and respiratory system and brings us into a state of deeper awareness.
2. Immune Response – Music has been shown to increase immune function. According to Suzanne Hanser, there is “increasing evidence that making music enhances the immunological response, which enables us to fight viruses.” In animal studies, research has shown that listening to music “enhanced the immune parameters and the anti-tumor response in unstressed rodents” (M.J. Nuñez, et al.)
3. Physical Pain Relief – Music has been shown to reduce pain by releasing neuro-chemicals which distract the body from physical pain.
4. Increased Physical Performance – Listening to music has been shown to directly correlate to better performance in other physical tasks. Music with a bpm (beats per minute) of 120 to 140 is ideal. There is research currently being done where researchers are creating workout equipment that alters music that the exercisers hear based on their movement.
5.Language and reasoning skills- People who have early musical training develop the areas of the brain related to language and reasoning. The logical and creative parts of the brain are better developed with music and songs can help impart information for better recall.
6.Improved social abilities– Performance in music encouraging working together and cooperative learning.
7.“Flow” State– Music is unique in that it’s a “temporal art” meaning it takes place over time. The performer and the listener must allow themselves to enter into a “flow” state. This means that the listener or player is in a state of mind where he or she is totally immersed in music.
8.Increased Compassion– With better the emotional memory and in-depth emotional understanding, it makes sense that those who understand music have a deeper understanding of what it means to be compassionate.
Music reveals our holistic nature and how integrated we are. It shows us that our brains, bodies and emotions are fundamentally intertwined. As our brains perceive music, our bodies react, our minds learn and adapt, and our emotions respond and these are only a few of the many benefits we receive from music. The most important aspect of music is the joy it brings. Music increases happiness, which leads to better performance in all areas of life.
Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound healer and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She created the Perennial Music and Arts concept with her colleague, Jacqueline Bata in 2016 .She is passionate about tea and creating our own daily rituals. Visit www.PerennialMusicAndArts.com for more about music lessons and www.JanaeJean.com for more about a variety of wellness related topics including tea, sound healing, and recipes. Contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about tea, ceremony, music composition, sound healing, writing, photography, or other relevant topics.