Music is one of the greatest phenomena ever to grace our Earth, demonstrating profound effects on our brain and memories

09 February

Music is one of the greatest phenomena ever to grace our Earth, demonstrating profound effects on all life forms – especially us humans. We all have certain songs or pieces of music that hold great sentimental value; that transport us back to a time and place, complete with all the emotions practically still in tact.

This of course has perplexed and fascinated scientists and psychologists for many decades. But thanks to new technologies such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), we are beginning to glimpse the true power of music and how it affects our brains.

Not only does music generate a spectacular amount of cerebral activity – increasing blood flow and stimulating numerous parts of the brain – it also causes chemical and physical reactions to occur in our bodies.

Studies have repeatedly shown intrinsic links between music and emotion, movement and memory, with all three being intertwined when given the right stimuli. Not only does this offer us a unique insight into our relationship with music, but paves the way for new forms of therapy that can aid injured and diseased brains.

One particular study went further in depth on how the different elements within a single piece of music – timbre, tone and rhythm – affect different areas of the brain. The results were fascinating. Timbre seemed to engage the so-called ‘default mode network’, thought to be associated with imagination and creativity. Tone was almost directly linked with limbic areas of the brain, responsible for emotion. The same applied to rhythm, which also recruited motor areas. Furthermore, our brains will also follow the progressions and changes that occur within the music.

In regards to memory, we know that listening to sentimental music can unlock autobiographical memories buried deep in the recesses of our minds, almost instantaneously and without compromise. Interestingly, this is truer of pieces that have not been listened to frequently over long periods of time – where their associated memories remain more specific and therefore better reserved. Either way, the therapeutic potential of this knowledge is huge.

For those living with dementia, music can access personal and precious memories thought to be lost. It can also provide great comfort and reassurance where words fail, serving as a means of emotional and physical expression and release.

Singing for the Brain, an Alzheimer’s Society run music group can be an extremely stimulating social enviroment for people living with dementia.