29th Oct 2014

Music, Sound Waves, Brain Waves & Development

Music can produce dramatic emotional responses in its listeners. Jazz and classical music can both soothe or motivate, a funeral dirge can start tears flowing, gospel music inspires and reggae can get a party started. These responses to music may be learned, to an extent, but are also products of the way the music is interpreted by the brain, and how music can help rewire the brain and change its cognitive and emotional functions.

The brain is a vast landscape of neural pathways that are constantly being studied in order to see the best ways to treat different cognitive and neurological disorders, such as autism or dyslexia. With the prevalence of such disorders, researchers are focusing more and more on not only the development of the brain, but also how the brain can rewire itself when faced with different stimuli through the five senses. Music is a large part of many studies, especially since the emotional response to music is pervasive and occurs in all societies. Beyond emotional response and the benefits of calming babies or adults with soft sounds or rhythmic Djembe tones, music can also teach more about emotional intelligence and the ability to interpret emotional cues. ScienceDaily.com reports that, “music training sharpens an individual’s ability to recognize emotion in sound, an ability that goes a long way in terms of developing sensitivity to emotional cues and intuitive understanding of social contexts, two skills critical to emotional intelligence.” The benefits of this in psychology and for those who work with autistic children and adults are astounding, considering that many psychological disorders can have non-emotional responses or a lack of empathy, much like the emotional and social responses exhibited by those with autism.

Researchers studying the effects of music on the brain have discovered that brain waves and sound waves look alike. They are so much alike, in fact, that by recording a brain wave created from a sound, then playing the brain wave, the sound that was initially played is played back by the brain wave. Nina Kraus, a researcher at Northwestern University in Chicago, says, “In the brain wave, you can still hear elements of the original sound's pitch, timing and timbre.” Kraus believes that the transformation from sound wave to brain wave is crucial to how well we hear, learn, read and interact.

Nanta performanceWhat does this mean for musicians? Through your study of music, you may be better able to function cognitively, emotionally and have a stronger ability to anticipate and process changes. Due to the structure of music, you may be better able to predict outcomes and pay attention longer than those without music training. These benefits can occur as early as preschool and since music even shows improvement in Alzheimer’s patients, the wide-reaching cognitive and emotional benefits of music may be the key to battling many neurological development or degeneration issues.

Along with other benefits to music, such as the improvement in math and planning skills, music is also beneficial in terms of teamwork, creativity and expression. Grabbing your drum, udu or shekere may give you relief from the stress or anxiety of your day, but since music also helps enhance your overall brain function, it makes you smarter, cognitively and emotionally, and above all, music is fun.