We all know that awful feeling; when we forget our earbuds or when they suddenly stop working. When this happens to me, I can’t help but feel a wave of sudden dread. What am I supposed to listen to during that 10 minute walk to class? My thoughts? How can I reap the benefits of playing and listening to music?

Personally, music has been my go to coping mechanism whenever I’m stressed. Whether it be picking up my guitar or putting my earbuds in, I can always count on music to make me feel better. Other than being an outlet in times of trouble, music also has many health benefits. Here are a few benefits of playing and listening to music:

If you listen to music, it...

Increases Happiness

Music causes the brain to release dopamine, leading to increased happiness. Dopamine is released from the part of the brain that responds to rewarding stimuli and is often called the “feel good” neurochemical. A study from McGill University shows that the most dopamine was released when anticipating and reaching peak emotional arousal in music. 

Reduces Stress

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Julia Liu

Relaxing music can calm people down in times of distress. It can stop anxiety induced increases in heart rate and decrease levels of the “stress hormone” known as cortisol. According to a study, patients that listened to music after heart surgery needed less morphine and had significantly lower amounts of cortisol. 

Decreases Pain

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Dopamine release from music may help relieve pain because it can interfere with pain signals transferring from the brain to the spinal cord. The more someone enjoys a song and engages with it, the less pain they feel. Pain reduction is just one of the several benefits of playing and listening to music.

Improves Athletic Performance

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Along with elevating overall mood, music can also power up workouts. Music can help coordinate movement because it stimulates the motor cortex. Dopamine can block perceptions of fatigue and pain, allowing for longer and more intense workouts. According to Dr. Costas Karageorghis, “music can be like a performance-enhancing drug”. Who needs steroids?

Can Help With Sleep

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Julia Liu

Certain types of music may help people with sleeping problems. In a meta-analysis of music-sleep studies, subjects listened to 45 minutes of relaxing music before going to bed. For bedtime music, the optimal tempo is 60 bpm. However, songs that evoke emotions may hinder the ability to get a good night’s rest. It’s definitely not the time to blast that turn up playlist.

Improves Memory

Julia Liu

Music therapy has also been effective on patients with dementia. Because music lights up pathways in the brain, it can help with emotional, cognitive, and memory processing. Memories related to music can actually last longer than other ones. In fact, some patients can recognize emotions through music even when they can’t identify them through voices or facial expression. 

Can Improve Productivity

When performing repetitive tasks, music consistently increases productivity. However, it may be too distracting for tasks requiring deep thinking. Studies claim that ambient music and songs in major keys work best for boosting creativity. Additionally, familiar music is helpful for immersive tasks. Other factors include the type of music, the presence of lyrics, and loudness.

If you play an instrument, it...

Builds Language Skills

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Julia Liu

A study by Northwestern University revealed how teenagers that practiced music every day were better at discerning between sounds. Music also improves the connections between sound and meaning, which can help build language skills. In children, music training develops the left side of the brain and can help with learning.

Improves Multi-Sensory Processing Skills

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Julia Liu

A study by the University of Montreal shows that musicians are better at distinguishing between different senses. Participants listened to beeps while sensing vibrations on their finger. They were asked to report the vibrations and to disregard the beeps. The non-musicians struggled more with differentiating between sensory signals, leading to more erroneous reports.

Strengthens Social Bonds

Julia Liu

Music strengthens social bonds by opening up the doors for social connections. Playing music releases oxytocin, which is important for creating trust. Additionally, cooperation is required when playing with other musicians. Music also increases empathy and strengthens “theory of mind” because people try to understand the messages of the composer. 

Increases IQ

Playing an instrument can change the shape of the brain and improve cognitive skills. Structurally, musician’s brains have larger sections that control motor skills, hearing, and memory. This can improve alertness, planning, and emotional perception. In fact, research has shown that playing music can increase IQ by seven points. These benefits affect people of all ages, from children to the elderly.

The next time you need a pick me up, break out the tunes and remember these benefits of playing and listening to music.