Music has the ability to stir our emotions and awaken deep memories. Have you ever noticed that listening to your favorite song, singing in the shower, or drumming along on the dashboard just makes you feel good? Research shows that listening to music can give you a positive emotional boost and improve memory and mental alertness. The relationship we have with music is powerful and musical experiences offer many benefits for your emotional and mental well-being.
Studies show engaging in musical experiences (including listening to music or playing an instrument) releases that “feel good” hormone, dopamine. Part of the “brain’s reward system,” dopamine allows us to feel pleasure. “So, when we’re listening to a song we really love, that euphoric feeling comes in that hit of endorphins,” says Elizabeth Barone, board certified music therapist (MA, MT-BC, CCLS). Music therapy is the use of music to meet nonmusical goals, explains Elizabeth. Music therapists use the power of music as a tool to help clients work through emotional or mental difficulties, manage stress, or enhance memories.
“The thing about music is that it’s processed in all areas of the brain and not just in one area like speech or memory recall,” Elizabeth says. This explains why somebody who might not have access to language (in the case of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia) can still sing songs and have moments of clarity because music is being processed in other areas outside the speech zone. Elizabeth reveals that listening to music can also assist with better sleep and a reduction in the stress hormone, cortisol. So, if you’re wondering how to get a little more music into your life, make music a priority.
Shirley’s Story: What a Wonderful World
At 76 years old, Shirley Sappenfield recently started taking cello lessons. “I just picked up the cello and I love the deep resonance of it,” Shirley says. But Shirley’s not resting there because she’s taking piano lessons, too. Shirley grew up with a deep appreciation and love of music. “My mom always had music playing in the house: Cole Porter or concert music,” she says. When she was 8 years old, she started piano lessons but wasn’t able to continue. Still, that didn’t stop her from playing, and she adds, “I gave myself lessons.”
Today, Shirley enjoys the challenge of her piano and cello lessons. “I rewrite the music a lot,” she jokes, but quickly encourages anyone to take up lessons in any instrument if interested. “You’re going to wish that you had taken lessons,” Shirley explains, “and if you take piano lessons now, in five years you could be playing really well.” Shirley suggests if you don’t like the first instrument youchoose, well…don’t stop there. Go out and find another you could love. It’s true, Shirley certainly isn’t stopping because as she says about her musical endeavors, “I like to participate, not just be a spectator.”
Walking On Sunshine
If you’re looking for a simple way to turn up the volume on the music in your daily life, Elizabeth encourages you to share a song with someone you love. “Then dig a little deeper and talk about when’s the first time you heard this song,” she says. This sharing can bring a deeper connection between you and your loved ones. Music in all its forms is a powerful tool for boosting our well-being and keeping our brains sharp, because as Elizabeth says, “At the end of the day, our first musical experience is hearing a heartbeat, and that’s rhythmic and musical.”
By Tonilyn Hornung | Photo by Providence Doucet