Having participated in the golden age of classical Arab culture in the Near East, Jews played an important role in Spain as mediators between Arab and Christian culture, and Jewish poetry and music consequently reached a new pinnacle. In the 13th and 14th century Jews were also musicians at the Castilian court. Together with Arab musicians they played an important role in the performance of the “Cantigas de Santa Maria” (eleven of which tell of Jewish live and culture in Spain), compiled by King Alfonso el Sabio (1252-84)
Throw on some headphones, crank up the tunes, and what happens? Your toes and fingers start to tap. Maybe your head and shoulders begin to bob. Pretty soon, you might be on your feet, busting a move, joyously belting out the lyrics. Music has taken over, and your body is now along for the ride.
While it may be obvious that music impacts you physically, understanding how music and the brain interact requires deep study and an ability to probe the mysteries of the human mind. The result is a fascinating picture of the role music can play in brain development, learning, mood, and even your health. Dive into cognitive studies, and read on to learn exactly how music affects your brain.
Music, Your Brain, & Wellbeing
One of the first things that happens when music enters our brains is the triggering of pleasure centers that release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy. This response is so quick, the brain can even anticipate the most pleasurable peaks in familiar music and prime itself with an early dopamine rush.
Beyond simply making you feel good, however, there’s evidence that music can even be good for your health. Research has shown that listening to music is associated with upticks in immunity-boosting antibodies and cells that protect against bacteria and other invaders. Music has also proven to be effective across a variety of treatment scenarios for conditions ranging from premature birth to depression to Parkinson’s disease.
Even in terms of brain development, music can play a key role. Training to play an instrument, for instance, is believed to increase gray matter volume in certain areas of the brain, not unlike how physical exercise can tone and enlarge muscles. As a result, musicians often experience improvement in brain functions like:
If you’re ready to learn how to play a new instrument at home, start by finding a new or used instrument that interests you. Check sites like Craigslist or head over to your local thrift shop or instrument store to find options like pianos, flutes, guitars, banjos, and more. Then, look up free tutorial videos online to start learning. Some great online resources available to teach you how to play the instrument of your choice include:
Many of the beneficial effects of music on the brain are not limited to any single genre. Whether you’re listening to the smooth jazz styling of Billie Holiday on vinyl, the classic country sounds of Johnny Cash on YouTube, or The Beatles and their powerful British Invasion rock music on Spotify, different styles can produce the same results – as long as they align with your musical preferences. In this way, it’s the brain’s relationship with familiar and favored music that is key.
In other cases, the style of music can play a role. When it comes to the best music for learning, for example, experts recommend different genres for different purposes. Upbeat music, including songs with positive lyrics, can provide an energy boost and get your brain primed for learning. Once it’s time to buckle down and concentrate, however—like when you need to read, write, or study your course materials, instrumental music and soothing genres can help you stay calm and focused. Ultimately, however, each person may develop an approach to studying and music that’s uniquely suited for them. For more on this topic, check out courses in psychology that explore the inner workings of the human mind.
Some places you may be able to find new music include:
If you’d prefer to study to gentle or ambient sounds instead, download apps like Rainy Mood or A Soft Murmur to help you focus.
Experiencing New Music
There are other ways you can learn about new music without plugging in your headphones. Take part in any of the following activities to explore different types of music:
Go to open mic nights in your community
Attend local concerts in your area
Ask your friends and family for music recommendations on your social media and have them share their favorite songs, playlists, or genres
Use different tools like Pandora, Spotify, MoodFuse, to find new music
Use apps like Shazam to help you remember the music you hear while you’re out, so you can go home and download it later
Whether you play an instrument, listen to your music streaming app, or enjoy going to live concerts, music is having an active influence on your brain. Understanding how music and the mind interact, and how to fine-tune your music consumption for maximum impact, can have an effect on the way you feel, think, study and more. So, put in your headphones, start your favorite album, and feel your dopamine levels rising. For a deeper understanding of music and how the body works in general, explore an online degree in psychology or cognitive studies.
We wanted to highlight another local piano instructor whose consistently provided her students with first rate musical training! Tabby Worthington’s studio Piano With Tabby has been voted the best music lessons in Clear Lake three times concurrantly by the Macaroni Kid Gold Daisy Awards. Although focused on piano, Tabby also instructs in guitar and ukulele, an takes advantage of the latest methods and technological tools available (like Rocksmith!) to keep her students excited, and insure years of great musical development and fun.
Tabby Worthington lives in Clear Lake with her husband, Ryan and their 2 children, and has a menagerie of pets. Before she was a music teacher, she worked in technical support and computer repair.
Beginning with a handful of piano and voice students in 2000, Ms. Tabby has worked for several schools in the greater Clear Lake area, teaching many students of all ages and building a reputation in the community as a compassionate teacher who is patient and adapts her lessons to the needs of each individual student. Over the years, her approach to individualized learning hasn’t changed, but the tools she uses to teach have. She now incorporates technology in new and innovative ways, offering practice assignments in the iPad Piano Maestro app and digital worksheets via Sproutbeat. She teaches using the cutting-edge Piano Pronto method, in which students will master the instrument while playing familiar and engaging melodies from a wide variety of genres.
In 2007, Ms. Tabby graduated from Kindermusik University and became a Licensed Kindermusik Educator, which makes her a special expert on early childhood development through music and movement. Kindermusik is a wonderful program for children from infants to 7 year olds. She is no longer able to offer Kindermusik classes, but still recommends them highly for all children under 7. Visit the Kindermusik website for more information.
Ms. Tabby encourages all students to experience different styles of music instead of focusing on just one. “I believe that having a well-rounded background in all kinds of music makes for better musicians,” she says.
We all know music is kind of magic. It has the power to tap directly into our emotions, and ignite our imaginations. It can make us bust a move, or move us to tears, sometimes in the course of a single song. But that’s not all it can do.
There’s growing scientific evidence that shows learning to play an instrument—and piano in particular—can actually make you smarter, happier, and healthier. The cognitive demands of learning piano could help with everything from planning skills and language development to reducing anxiety and even boosting memory!
Learning to play piano means teaching your brain how to work on overdrive. Think about all the individual tasks your brain has to perform simultaneously: keeping time, following pitch, forming chords, maintaining posture and controlling your breath, all while your right and left hands are operating independently from each other while ranging over 88 identical little black and white buttons. Also, you might be operating the pedals and reading and interpreting sheet music too. Every time you sit down to play piano, you’re giving your brain a monster workout, exercising your logical, creative, visual, auditory, emotional, and motor functions.
2. Learning Piano Actually Builds Brain Power
The mental demands of piano are so significant that players’ brains are structured differently than other people’s. Breakthroughs in brain imaging have shown that playing piano strengthens the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and makes the connections in the frontal lobe much more efficient. According to Mic that means pianists may have a serious leg up in terms of “problem solving, language, spontaneity, decision making and social behavior.”
3. Musicians Really Do Think Outside the Box
Researchers at Vanderbilt University have discovered that musicians are innately proficient in a creative technique they call “divergent thinking, which is the ability to come up with new solutions to open-ended, multifaceted problems.” Their work suggests that because playing music enhances communication between parts of the brain, musicians literally think about complex problems differently, and come up with more creative solutions.
4. Learning to Play Piano Is Beneficial at Any Age
While learning piano at a young age is a great way to develop discipline, self-esteem, and academic skills, it’s never too late to benefit from the power of playing. Adults who learn to play piano experience a decrease in depression, fatigue, and anxiety and an increase in memory, verbal communication, and a feeling of independence. Playing piano can also help alleviate symptoms of dementia, PTSD, and stroke, by improving cognition and dexterity, and reducing stress.
Tickling the ivories may not give you superpowers, but it’s clear that learning to play piano is one of the most powerful ways to exercise your mind, and soothe your soul.