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How does the human brain process music?

"Without music, life would be a mistake" - Friedrich Nietzsche

Music plays a huge role in shaping cultures, communities as well as an individual. People around the world communicate through music making it a universal language.

But how does the human brain process music?

Listening to music activates every known part of the brain. If we were to observe the brain while listening to music, it would be like seeing fireworks. The frontal lobe, which is used for decision making, planning and thinking, can be enhanced through music. The temporal lobe spans on both sides of the brain. The right side interprets the sounds while the left interprets the words and language. Professional musicians can often visualise a music score when they are listening to it. This happens because of the use of the occipital lobe which (processes what we see) instead of the temporal lobe which is activated in case of a layman.

The cerebellum stores physical memory and coordinates movement. A study showed that Alzheimer's patients who learnt playing music as kids are still able to do so as the muscle memory remains intact. Music increases dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbent producing a similar effect to substance use, giving us a feeling of pleasure. Listening to certain music can make a person feel shivers down their spine, here the amygdala is activated which triggers and processes emotions. Listening to music may result in increased neurogenesis in the hippocampus allowing production of new neurons and improved memory.

Music helps in regulating heart rate, blood pressure, appetite , mood - to name a few by triggering the hypothalamus to release essential hormones and chemicals.

The corpus callosum enables the right and left side of the brain to communicate. Musicians are found to have a better connection between the two hemispheres resulting in them having superior memory, auditory skills and cognitive flexibility.

Upbeat music gives us energy while sad music triggers emotions and gets us in touch with our feelings. It seems that music has a unique ability to invoke emotional memories and navigate us through our life's ups and downs.


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