How and Why Music Can Create Good Health and Happiness

musicalRecent research on music instruction and its relationship to brain development in the young has got neuroscientists buzzing!

The results are quite remarkable—even a relatively short period of music instruction in preschool children produces better language and math skills, increased attention span and an overall increase in intelligence scores.

But there is good news for senior citizens as well. Studies conducted on seniors who had music instruction in their formative years scored better on hearing and language studies decades after the fact.

Nina Kraus, PhD and others at Northwestern University studied brain responses to synthesized speech sounds. The researchers measured electrical activity in the auditory brainstem and found that even though the music instruction took place many years in the past, those who had it scored better. They were faster to respond to speech sounds which translates to better hearing and communication skills in older years.

Grandparents, you might want to encourage your grandchildren to take those piano lessons or enroll in the local school band or symphony. Even better, expose very young children to music from the time they’re babies and then encourage their participation in pre-schools with excellent music programs.

Even group music lessons seem to produce the positive brain development that builds the structure for improved learning in language, speech and mathematical skills. And for those of us dealing with elderly friends or loved ones who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s, studies also show that music is a great tonic for mind and emotions. Singing in a group setting, listening to music DVD’s, playing music games such as “Name That Tune” and attending music performances all contribute to mental well-being.

Those who may have severe memory problems can often remember the lyrics to songs they knew in their younger years. And the emotional bond gained from participating in group music events is a great mood lifter.

Playing simple musical instruments is another way to keep the brain active and promote good mental health. Even very simple instruments such as triangles, xylophones, tambourines, bells and rhythm sticks allow a musical experience that brings a smile to each face. It feels good to participate.

Every one of us can benefit from including music in our lives. You may enjoy having background music in your living areas while you work. You might enjoy karaoke night at your local senior center or club.

When life is stressful, consider listening to soothing musical sounds such as harp, guitar or other instrumental instruments. When you need a pick me up, put on your favorite oldies and dance.

Summer is often a time when you’ll find local outdoor concert events. Grab some friends and make an evening of it. It may be a rock and roll band, a local choir, the symphony or a jazz trio. Let musical diversity enrich your life. And remember this: Music is good for you at any age.

You can be especially happy if you took music lessons as a child because your brain has an added measure of resistance to memory loss, hearing problems and communication skills.

See the Journal of Neuroscience, “Older Adults Benefit from Music Training Early in Life,” November 6, 2013

or:   Type in brain development and music.