Few people can resist the power of music. Although preferences vary, the melodies and rhythms touch our hearts as well as our brains. This is why listening and playing music is increasingly recommended by the medical community. And it is encouraged to start listening at an early age. Studies have shown that music acts as a neurostimulant for babies, especially premature ones.
Swiss researchers from the University Hospitals of Geneva discovered in 2019 that music promotes the development of sensory and cognitive functions in these newborns. To reach this conclusion, the scientists commissioned composer Andreas Vollenweider to create three melodies: one to accompany the awakening of infants, one to play while they fall asleep and one “to interact during the waking phases”. . They discovered that the neural networks of babies exposed to these melodies developed more efficiently than those of other premature babies.
The impact of music on the cognitive and executive functions of our brain is well established, especially in children. Recent findings show that music can alter biochemical processes in the brain by enhancing brain plasticity. This would explain why it has beneficial effects on the intellectual development of toddlers.
Research by Christina Zhao and Patricia Kuhl, two scientists from the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, already confirmed this in 2016. They found, with supporting medical neuroimaging, that listening to music influences the development of speech learning skills. in babies. “We know that babies learn quickly from a wide range of experiences, and we believe that music can be an important experience that can influence their brain development,” Christina Zhao told CBS News at the time.
Playing music is “the brain equivalent of a full body workout”
This beneficial effect on brain plasticity continues throughout childhood and adult life. And it looks like playing an instrument might help his intelligence quotient (IQ) grow faster. A team of researchers, led by experts from Stanford University School of Medicine, studied the cognitive functions of 153 musicians and non-musicians. They found a significant difference in the brain structure of musicians who started playing an instrument at an early age, be it the piano, clarinet, trumpet or violin. They have stronger brain connections than those who started their musical training later.
For Anita Collins, a researcher specializing in brain development and music learning, playing an instrument is equivalent to “a complete brain workout”. “While listening to music engages the brain in some pretty interesting activities, playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout,” she explained in a 2014 TED talk. “Playing a musical instrument engages virtually every area of the brain at once, especially the visual, auditory and motor cortices. As with any other training, a disciplined and structured practice of music strengthens these brain functions, allowing us to apply this force to other activities.
One thing is certain, the more you practice an instrument, the more you benefit from these effects. But listening to music can also bring many benefits. First, it can help regulate your mood. Cognitive neuroscience claims that music provides a feeling of pleasure by activating our reward circuitry. This system, put in place by natural selection to regulate our desires and emotions, increases the release of dopamine, the famous “happiness hormone”. So much so that music is now used as a therapeutic tool in health establishments.
The Lasting Effects of Musical Memory
Music therapy has also been shown to be effective in treating stress and managing pain. More and more musical workshops are being developed to help people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy or even migraines. A team of French, German and American researchers conducted an experiment with 20 migraine patients. They suggested patients listen to 20 minutes of music twice a day for three months. As a result, their migraine attacks were significantly reduced. Half of the study participants even said they were cut in half.
And the therapeutic benefits of music don’t stop there. Numerous studies indicate that music stimulates almost all forms of memory, even in the elderly. Hervé Platel, professor of neuropsychology at the University of Caen, was one of the first researchers in the 1990s to observe the persistence of musical memory. He found that patients with Alzheimer’s disease were able to learn new songs within weeks, when their memory skills were thought to be lost. And this, even at an advanced stage of the disease.
But does music help protect the brain from the effects of aging? Researchers remain cautious on this issue. However, they are unanimous on one point: listening to music, singing or playing an instrument has multiple benefits on the overall cognitive functioning of the brain, at all ages. All the more reason to take advantage of the Fête de la Musique on June 21st.