“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the Universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety, and life to everything. It is the essence of order and leads to all that is good and just and beautiful.” – Plato
Nature has provided us with wonderful sounds of music; the chirping of birds, the rustling of leaves, the sound of a waterfall and the sound of rain. All these sounds keep our mind so calm and peaceful.
What happens to our brain when we hear music?
Brain and music
The front lobe is the most important part of our brain, which also happens to be bigger in human beings compared to all other animals. This part of the brain helps in planning, reasoning and decision making; listening to music enhances this part of the brain.
The back part of our brain called as ‘Occipital lobe’ is the one that processes whatever we see, in fact this part of the brain is used more by musicians because they try to process the music more than a common listener.
Cerebellum is the part of brain which is like a storage area basically like a muscle memory. When we do something repeatedly, cerebellum stores it as a physical memory and this memory never fades out. Musicians who played instrument when they were young would never forget how they played in their old age even if their memory fades out because this was activity was part of their cerebellum.
How can music do this?
When you hear music, the soundwaves strike the eardrum which produces vibrations on a fluid surrounding the inner ear. Based on these vibration pattern, electric waves are sent to the brain activating the various lobes. Unlike music other noises do not create a vibration like music and thus does not activate certain parts of the temporal lobes .
So why does some music make us cry while others keep us elated?
This is basically because of the notes composition or in Indian music it is termed as “Raga”. Basically, every raga is composed of swaras (7 swaras in total) Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni; and a combination of these swaras create unique ragas. Except Sa and Pa all the other swaras have variants, and the position of these swara variants in the raga decide the emotion of the song. Similarly, in western music presence of minor scales makes a song emote sorrow while a major scale signifies a happy song.
Ragas in Indian classical music has hidden mathematics in it. The ragas are classified as Parent (Melakartha) and child (Janya) raga, and the name and position of the parent ragas has a hidden math involved. For musical instruments, mathematics explains explains how strings vibrate at certain frequencies, and soundwaves are used to describe these mathematical frequencies.
How does music heal
Music has been regarded as a therapy from the ancient times. There are documents that show that during World War 2, music was used for healing and the nurses used this as their main therapy. When we listen or learn music, each of the brain areas mentioned above are stimulated which helps in enhancing our mental health. Research has proved that music does improve the vitals like blood pressure, heart rates on patients. Surgeries performed on patients who had listened to music prior to being operated seemed more relaxed and their sedation was considerably less than a non-music listener.
Study also proves that the possibility of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is very less for a person exposed to continuous music. It is also a known fact that many women prefer a labor with music being played in their room as it keeps them calm and aids in relaxed nerves.
Not just any chronic disease, but music is a good stress buster too. A fast beat music could uplift our spirit, while a soothing melody could calm us down and helps for a good sleep. This is because the brain releases more dopamine which is essential for our emotional behavior in keeping us relaxed.
Babies and music
I had listened to a TED talk recently where a woman explained that music had been a lifesaving therapy for her premature baby. The woman was a musician herself and when her baby was in the NICU she played her music CDs as she felt the ICU was filled with unpleasant noises. Once the music started playing, the nurses and doctors observed that the vitals of all the babies in the NICU were improving significantly; this was not an overnight development though but the continuous exposure of music definitely made an impact on the health of the babies. This was so inspirational.
All this about music make us realize that music is so divine. Just like god its presence needs to be felt to enhance ourselves as a human being.