Music does things to us. Celebrity artists like Adele, Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen have spoken publicly about the power of music to help mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. William Shakespeare wrote that “music can raze out the written troubles of the brain.” Several times Elton John has commented about the healing power of music.

Science backs up the opinions of creative individuals. Oliver Sacks, author and professor of neurology at NYU School of Medicine, comments, “Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears. It is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more — it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life.”

We are spending a few weeks thinking about the positive things that we can put in our minds to bring about positive results in our attitudes and behaviors. Nurturing and developing our minds spurs positive growth in our lives. We looked first at the benefits of being ardent readers. Today let’s give thought to the positive benefits of music.

How music affects people is not completely understood, research is beginning to realize the power that music has upon our minds. When you hear music that you like, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine that has positive effects on your mood. Music can make us feel strong emotions. According to some studies, music has the power to improve our health and wellness.

Research has shown that music can enhance intelligence, improve mental focus, boost the immune system, strengthen self-esteem, and increase confidence. Music reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves memory and aids toward inducing a better and deeper sleep. Music literally lifts your spirits.

The website Palladium Private lists six benefits of music upon your mental health. The results are astounding.

Music improves the ability to focus on work or study. Numerous studies have seen these benefits from classical music. Recent studies show that music with a tempo of 60 beats per minute increases the brain’s ability to process information.

Music is a way of expressing emotion and creativity. Music allows the brain to tap into an encyclopedia of emotions.

Music lifts our mood and our outlook. Playing uplifting songs stimulates the brain and leaves a lasting, profound effect.

Music relieves anxiety and stress. Subliminal and ambient music using alpha waves from 8 to 14 Hz help sharpen the mind. Isochronic music calms feelings of anxiety, nerves and fear.

Music helps us relax. The calming sounds of piano, strings and nature improves our mood and relaxes both the body and the mind.

Music provides an acceptable release of negative emotions and anger. Music allows us to process thought and feelings of resentment and anger in an almost therapeutic way. Studies are hinting that people who consistently listen to music are less likely to have violent responses of anger.

Why does music make such a difference? Harvard Medical School reports studies and developments in cognitive neuroscience show that music activates just about all of the brain. While music obviously causes response from the auditory cortex close to the ears, it also touches some of the broadest and most diverse networks of the brain.

The parts of the brain involved in emotion are activated and synchronized. Music touches a variety of our memory regions, reminding us of times and places where similar music was important. Music also activates our motor systems. We are able to understand the rhythm and beat of music even before we start tapping our foot or clapping our hands.

Studies are also showing the music has positive effects upon the aging process and against dementia. The John Hopkins Medicine website says that “few things stimulate the brain the way music does. If you want to keep the brain engaged through the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.”

John Hopkins researchers have had dozens of musicians, from jazz performers to rappers, improvise music while lying down inside an MRI machine. They have been able to watch which areas of the brain light up during the performance.

An otolaryngologist — a head and neck surgeon commonly called an ENT doctor — notes, “Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It is based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense out of it.”

Music provides more than just individual benefits. Some researchers believe that music is one of the most important tools for creating unity, cohesion and connected relationships. Think for a moment of the uniting power of music. National anthems connect crowds at sporting events. Protest songs rouse a sense of common goals and purpose. Hymns or praise songs build unity and identity in houses of worship. Love songs help couples bond and stay united. Lullabies connect parents and infants in secure peace and rest.

Have you ever been eating at a Mexican restaurant when the staff gathered around a table and began singing to celebrate someone’s birthday? Even though you may not have understood the language or known the family celebrating, you probably joined in singing. There was most likely a smile on your face during the song. No doubt you offered applause at the end. Music brings us together.

From the Catbird Seat, musician Lou Rawls once said, “Music is the greatest communication in the world. Even if people don’t understand the language, they still know good music when they hear it.” Nelson Mandela wrote, “Music is a great blessing. It has the power to elevate us and liberate us. It sets people free to dream.” Dream on.

Tom May is a freelance writer and educator, and a columnist for the News and Tribune. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com

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