Carla Tanguay, MA, MT-BC
5 Unexpected Ways Music Can Help You Reach Your Goals
Whether your New Year’s resolution is about moving more, learning more, or having more fun, here are some ways that music can help you reach your goals and make this your best year yet!
1. Music Changes Your Mood
Music is intricately connected to our emotions. Movie soundtrack composers know this well when they use big swells to bring on a rush of emotions, develop tension by slowly layering instruments, or reward feelings of triumph with horns and drums. Just listening to music can change how you feel. It can lower anxiety, increase energy and arousal, or provide a positive distraction.
Music activates brain regions associated with reward, motivation, and arousal. Listening to music that you enjoy can bring about positive changes in your mood state. Start with music from your favorite genre (no one type works best!), and notice how different songs make you feel. You will likely notice that some songs bring up feelings of melancholy, others put a smile on your face, and others help you feel more relaxed. As you become more aware of how music makes you feel, you can develop ways to use music to help change your mood.
2. Music Helps You Learn New Things
There is growing evidence to suggest that music education enhances learning across subjects, providing particularly strong benefits in the areas of language development and reading. Babies as young as 9 months old demonstrate an improved ability to recognize patterns and process speech sounds after participating in regular music classes, and children who play instruments have improved verbal memory, reading ability, and executive function.
The benefits of studying music aren’t only for children. Making music has been compared to a full-body workout for your brain, as music is unique in how many different brain regions must be used together. Structured music practice strengthens pathways in your motor, visual, and auditory systems. These benefits carry over to other activities as well. (For a great TED Ed video about this, click here). Music is also helpful when trying to learn new information. Music can sharpen your attention and help you remember things better. Putting information to music, whether science concepts, your grocery list, or the alphabet, improves retention (and makes it a lot more fun!)
Music can help us relearn, remember, and recover. Music takes advantage of neuroplasticity- our brain’s ability to form new pathways throughout life- and helps us adjust to new situations, injuries, or changes in our environment. Because music uses so many different areas of our brain in unique ways, it can provide access to damaged or forgotten areas. For example, people who have lost the ability to speak due to stroke or brain injury in the verbal center of the brain can often still sing! Singing and speaking are not processed on the same brain pathways, so therapists use specific techniques involving music to help people regain the ability to speak. Other research has shown that listening to familiar music can help people with brain injuries access memories previously unavailable to them.
3. Music Connects You to Others
Music is a universal human behavior, present in all cultures and among all ages. While these days, we can put on our earbuds and listen to music alone anytime we want, throughout most of human history music was performed live as part of a group experience. Groups or tribes would come together to share song and dance, an act that strengthened social bonds and communicated a sense of belonging. We still do this today when we sing our school fight song, dance at a night club, or connect with friends over favorite songs.
Many of us have goals related to connecting more often and more deeply with others. Music provides us with a fun and meaningful way to do this. Try joining a choir, sitting in on a jam session, or finding a drum circle. Playing music with others involves coordination, cooperation, and cohesion, all of which will improve your social life. Studies suggest that singing or making music with others provides an array of benefits - from increasing social bonds and levels of oxytocin, to improving empathy in children.
4. Music Gets You Moving
Music has rhythm, and rhythm gets us moving. Find a song with a great beat, and it is harder not to tap your foot than to be moved by the music. We naturally pair physical activities with music- dance, marching, working, sports.
Music and exercise make a great pair. Studies find that when listening to music, people run farther, pedal faster, and work out longer. Songs that match the tempo of your movements (about 120 beats per minute for walking and 160 for running) and have a strong beat help synchronize your movements and even make your body move more efficiently.
5. Music is Fun!
Music brings us pleasure. The ways we interact with music are fun- whether it is moving our bodies, singing, playing instruments, or listening to old records. Why do people love going to concerts? We find it enjoyable just to watch others make music. But often, we also sing along, stand up, and move to the music.
Why is music so universally loved? Music triggers activity in the same brain structure that releases dopamine during sex and eating. It can be argued that we are hard-wired to enjoy music. With all the benefits that music brings, why not put some on right now?