Do you remember that classic 90s television commercial, “this is your brain on drugs”? We can all agree that this was a very important message.  We all understand the effects of our brain under the influence of a controlled substance.  But the sophisticated grown up version of you, much like the way you turned on your television set in the 90s, flips through your iPhone listening to your favorite playlist.  You’re jamming (let’s face it, most of us in the comfort of solitude) to your favorite tunes.  But have you ever thought about what is happens to your brain on music?

If you have really thought about the previous question, than you might just be my new best friend. We can all assume what might happen to our brains when we play or listen to our favorite songs. We all know that music can reach us in ways words cannot. Those of us that love music can attest to the fact that music can help to pick us up when we are down or to keep us down if that’s how we are feeling. Music can be your warm cuddly safety blanket or it can be a rocket pushing you to change. That must do something to our brains, right? Of course it does, but we can take that common idea of how music makes us feel and push the envelope. Let’s talk about how music can actually change our brains.

A quote by Micheal Thaut, a pioneer of NMT states, “a brain that engages in music, is CHANGED by engaging in music”. I put the word “change” in caps not because I decided to yell (namasté, friends) but because this is a very important word- CHANGE. While we engage in music, whether it be listening, singing, or actively playing an instrument, our brains are being globally activated. Engaging in music is a whole brain process. Through extensive neuro-imaging (#BrainSelfies!), research has shown vivid images of what is going on in our brains when we participate in music. These images have shown that when we perceive music or create music, parts of our brain light up in a way that could impress a Christmas tree.

Music is very much a core function in our brains that is shared among many of its parts.   There are many systems in our brains that are responsible for certain things we do and feel as humans. These are the bulbs of your brain holiday tree that light up brightly when you participate in music. Attention is housed in our frontal and pre-frontal lobes of our brains. During music, this section of our brain is on fire. We are constantly using our attention to focus when we engage in music. The limbic system is one of the most primitive and oldest parts of our brains, responsible for motivation, memory, social processing, emotion, and learning. These structures are activated when we participate in music too. There are also motor systems, primary and secondary auditory systems, and temporal and parietal areas in our brains where motor control (helps us with movement), language (helps us speak), and perception (our understanding of the world) are housed. And yes! All of these are ACTIVATED (now I’m yelling!) when we engage in music! When I say “we” I mean literally 97% of human beings respond this way to music, regardless of age, culture, ability, disability or musical training. No music experience is necessary to benefit from NMT.

So, why does this matter? The more we know about how music is processed neurologically, the more we can use music to aide in neurologic rehabilitation.

- Stroke affects 795,000 people each year in the United States alone

- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is the leading cause of death and disability in children and adults from ages 1 to 44.

- These numbers don’t account for that vast number of people living with Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, Cerebral Palsy and Autism; all which can benefit from NMT.

So, how can we use this scientific knowledge of our brain’s love for music? The answer: Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT). NMT applies this exact research on how music affects our brains and creates therapeutic interventions for cognitive, sensory, and motor dysfunction.   When we engage in music, our brains are changed by engaging in music. This is not a figurative “change”; neural networks in our brains can be created and strengthened if implemented correctly. THAT is the power of Neurologic Music Therapy.

Starting next week, this blog will dive into specific interventions for specific problems, explaining the nuts and bolts about how and why they work. Get ready for some fascinating neuroscience. Have a question about the neuroscience of music? Ask us! #musicitsscience #neurologicmusictherapy #NMT #MedRhythmsLLC

Written by: Steph Mathioudakis, MedRhythms Blogger