How Music Affects Your Life

We hear a lot today about the power of music, but let’s stop and ask the questions, what exactly does music do for you?  And, what evidence is there that music is all that powerful?  Whether you are involved in a drum circle, singing in a choir (or the shower), performing music professionally, tapping along to music on the radio, taking organ lessons, or using music to help other people heal, I believe that you are profoundly influenced by music.

So let’s examine exactly HOW music benefits us, along with some proof of that benefit.  The evidence I offer ranges from the testimony of a Native American Elder to the research results of Contemporary Neuroscientists.  All are worth considering.  What can music making do for you?

  1. Unify You With History and With Each Other.   “Since the beginning of civilization, drums were one of the main universal signals for calling people together in good ways. They were and are  humanity’s common pulse. In other words, drums do not know about race, racism, jealousy, hate, resentment, greed, language, genders, gender choice, human diversity. What they do know is the magic of inclusivity and the joyful sound of one heart beating.”   (Wilwilaask, All my Relations).  When you perform music with other people, you become part of a common rhythm and can celebrate the unity of our diverse human race.
  2. Increase Your Immunity and Cancer-Fighting Capacity.   A study by Barry Bittman, MD and his associates found that one session of therapeutic drumming significantly strengthened the immune system and increased the activity level of cancer-fighting T-cells.(Barry Bittman, MD, et al., 2001,  Alternative Therapies Health Medicine, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 38-47).
  3. Improve Your Mood, Reduce Burnout, and Improve Your Genome Functioning.  Dr. Bittman’s research also demonstrated that making music improved moods and reduced burnout in workers and students. The genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA.  All human cells (except for mature red blood cells) contain a complete genome.  According the Dr. Bittman, “The genome is a personal blueprint that serves as the instruction book for our bodies.”  There are 45 genomic markers associated with stress.  They can be viewed as “switches that literally turn on the production of specific biological substances within the body.” His study showed that making music changed 19 of the 45 stress genomes in a positive direction.   (Barry Bittman, MD, et al., 2005, Medical Science Monitor, Vol. 11, No.2, pp. 31-40).
  4. Improve Your Emotions and Thinking Flexibility.  In research that I conducted with Dr. Michael Thaut, we found that one session of music therapy improved mood and flexible thinking.  (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2009, Vol 1169, pp. 406-416).
  5. Provide a Workout for Your Entire Brain.  Music is not just a right-brain activity, but extensively involves systems throughout the brain, both left and right hemispheres.  (Daniel Levitin, Ph.D. 2006, This is your brain on music:  The science of a human obsession.  New York:  Penguin Books).
  6. Provide Increased Power to Your Brain.  First, music gives immediate stimulation and structure to your brain so that your mental operations can become more reliable and predictable.  Next, music introduces timing, grouping, and synchronization so that your brain can be better organized.  In addition, music stimulates shared or parallel brain systems, so that the part of your brain that is working gets help from other areas.  Your brain becomes super charged to accomplish the task at hand.  Finally, music provides an atmosphere that arouses emotion and motivation.  Music helps you feel good and stimulates the energy you need to follow through (Michael Thaut, Ph.D. [2005]. Rhythm, music, and the brain: Scientific foundations and clinical applications.  New York:  Routledge).

I hope that by now you are convinced that music is powerful, that it can improve your life, and that you can use more music.  Even if you are already making music, consider ways to make it even more powerful for you.  As a musician, I practice piano, trumpet, and voice every day, and perform in public an average of three times a week.  As a clinician, I lead drum circles and other music-related groups an average of twice a week.  However, lately I began enjoying music that is intended just for me.  I look forward to time I spend alone with my drum, creating special rhythms that relax and inspire me.  What aspects of music will make your life even greater?

Next post:  I will share the personal experiment that I have been conducting for the past year to improve my mental abilities.