What Your Brain Does When Your Ears Hear Music

In this week’s lesson, I’m going to talk to you about what parts of the brain are affected by music and what processes they go through when they are exposed to music. I’m going to use a lot of technical terms, try to stay with me. I’ll break it down as much as I can, but heads up, I’m just as confused as you will be soon enough.

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Several parts of your brain are activated when you listen to music, see the above photo and see if you can locate ‘em all! Listening to, playing, reading, and creating music involves just about every part of your brain. According to Daniel J. Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music:

…listening to music first involves subcortical structures like cochlear nuclei, the                                brain stem, and the cerebellum. It then moves up the auditory cortices on both sides of the brain. And when you hear music, listening also involves the memory centers 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 centers in the temporal and frontal lobes.

Wow, what an eyeful, am I right? Basically, different actions concerning the way your brain is introduced to music activate different parts of your brain. I’ve already said that a bunch, but it’s good to reiterate so that I really get the point across to you, the reader.

Musicians are pretty tight, because since playing music takes co-ordination of motor control, most musicians have a greater ability to use both hands (ambidexterity). Have you ever noticed that one of your hands is kind of stupid? If you’re right handed and not a musician, try to make your left hand do something that your right can do with ease, like writing your name.

Go on, try.

It’s not easy is it?

This is an easier feat for musicians because the brain fibers that connect your motor areas to your left and right brain are thickened, allowing better and more viable connections. Music also affects the way that your brain is able to learn, allowing neuroplasticity (the brain’s capacity to change) to help your brain increase the size of your auditory and motor cortex.

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A little further break down on which parts of the brain music affects, according to “What Parts of the Brain Are Stimulated by Music?”, the auditory cortex is mainly part of the temporal lobe of the brain, slightly above your ears. Try to find it! The brain cells in the auditory cortex are organized by sound frequencies. It analyzes the volume, pitch, speed, rhythm, and melody of music. The cerebrum stimulates the part of the brain that recalls memories associated when you remember lyrics. The cerebellum helps create smooth, flowing, and integrated movements when you hear or play music. And the limbic system, where we’ll cap it off, is the part of the brain that reacts emotionally to music. This is the thing that sends chills up your spine and lets you experience happiness, sadness, pleasure, etc.

Basically, the temporal and frontal lobes start processing the sounds of music and your brain cells do the rest of the work by deciphering the melody, the rhythm, and the pitch. In a few final words to bring this whole post together, different parts of your brain are affected when you listen to music, and your brain releases dopamine when you hear music, allowing you to feel good. So the lesson is, listen to more music!

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