Music is a part of our life. Music has had deep roots in human culture throughout history. Listening to, enjoying or playing music sometimes gives us pleasure, sadness, comfort and even touches us deeply, causing life-changing experiences. Why does music have such a powerful effect on our brain?
MUSIC CHANGES THE ACTIVITIES OF THE BRAIN.
Listening to, playing, reading and creating music involves practically every part of the brain. In the book This Is Your Brain on Music, Daniel J. Levitin explains that listening to music first involves subcortical structures like cochlear nuclei, the brain stem, and the cerebellum. It then moves up to auditory cortices on both sides of the brain. And when you hear music, listening also involves the memory centres in the brain, such as the hippocampus and lowest parts of the frontal lobe. Tapping along with the music gets your cerebellum involved. Reading music involves the visual cortex, and listening to or recalling lyrics will involve language centres in the temporal and frontal lobes.
__If you actually perform music, your frontal lobe for planning, and your motor and sensory cortex will activate as well. Because playing music requires co-ordination of motor control, somatosensory touch and auditory information, most musicians are known to have developed a greater ability than the average person to use both hands. Increased networks between the left and right brain form thick fibres that interconnect the two motor areas, an area that is larger in musicians than in nonmusicians.
__Because the brain has the capacity to change (called neuroplasticity), music also affects some of the brain’s learning capacities, increasing the size of the auditory and motor cortex. A research team from Utrecht University in the Netherlands also found music is associated with an improved ability for auditory imagery. Musically trained groups performed better on both a musical imagery task and a non-musical auditory-imagery task than naive groups.
RIGHT BRAIN OR LEFT BRAIN?
Generally music has been regarded as a right-brain activity because of its reliance on creativity. But brain-imaging research has shown music does involve both hemispheres, although a majority of activity does occur in the right side of the brain. Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was a French impressionist composer who suffered from an unknown disease that affected his left hemisphere, leaving him unable to speak, perform complex tasks, or read and write. He also lost his musical function and could not compose during the last years of his life. In contrast to Ravel, Russian composer Shebalin and British composer Benjamin Britten both continued writing musical works although they experienced impairment to their spoken language after having sustained strokes in the left hemisphere.
__Recent research into music localization using modern imaging technologies such as MRI and PET shows playing music professionally develops analytical processes in the left hemisphere, whereas other individuals process music in their right hemispheres. There is evidence of left hemisphere predominance in musicians compared to musical amateurs. Music lateralisation towards the right hemisphere is seen in inattentive listeners.
__Which side of the brain engages with music can also be subject to cultural influence. The Japanese process their traditional popular music in the left hemisphere, whereas Westerners process the same music in the right hemisphere. Music and language are processed separately; they are localized in homologous regions of the opposite hemispheres.