This article appears for archival purposes. Any events, programs and/or initiatives mentioned may no longer be applicable.
Today is International Strange Music Day! Not the most well-known of holidays, it was started by the New York composer Patrick Grant in 1997 with the aim of encouraging people to play and listen to music they hadn't heard before. Grant's credo for the holiday is "listening without prejudice." Listening to music—both old favorites and new discoveries—can be a lot of fun. Did you also know that listening to music is good for you? It’s not just food for your ears: music nourishes your brain.
Soothing The Savage Beast
In 1697 the playwright William Congreve wrote “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” Centuries of paraphrasing and misquoting morphed Congreve’s line into its better known modern version—the popular idiom “music soothes the savage beast.” Both versions of the line aren’t just true on a poetic or metaphorical level—there’s science to suggest that there IS a connection between music and relaxation. Research has shown that listening to music can reduce a person’s blood pressure, anxiety, and pain.
Listening to music also can improve mental alertness, memory, mood, and sleep quality. Researchers suggest listening to music that plays at around 60 beats per minute if you’re looking for something to calm you down and induce a state of relaxation. The reason why 60 BPM is the sweet spot is that it increases your alpha brain waves. These brain waves induce feelings of calm, increase creativity, and enhance your ability to take in and absorb new information. This alpha wave state is very similar to the state your brain enters when you meditate.
Better Learning Through Music
Studies have found that music can be a powerful motivator for learning. Listening to music stimulates your brain and activates areas that are receptive to processing information. If you're looking for a reward to motivate yourself to study, music can be a great incentive. One thing to keep in mind is that you may want to avoid listening to music while studying if you find lyrics distracting. Researchers noticed that some students with lower working memory capacity have a harder time retaining information while listening to songs with lyrics.
A Neurochemical Symphony
One of the main reasons why music has such a powerful effect on us is that it is conducting our brain’s neurochemicals like it’s an orchestra pit. Listening to music triggers the release of several different neurochemicals, all of which have a powerful impact on our physical and mental health:
- Dopamine: The pleasure hormone, dopamine is our body's way of rewarding us for pleasurable activities by giving us a dopamine rush.
- Cortisol: The stress hormone produced by our adrenal glands, cortisol regulates your blood pressure and keeps inflammation down.
- Serotonin: A mood stabilizer, serotonin calms the body down by regulating anxiety, promoting the healing of wounds, and maintaining bone health.
- Oxytocin: The love drug, oxytocin is the neurochemical that fosters feelings of closeness and bonds us tightly with other people. This is why concerts often have such a powerful communal feeling: the experience of live music can trigger an oxytocin release.
Out With The Old, In With The New Music
It can be easy to make most of your musical diet what you loved as a kid. It’s an old cliche but there’s a ring of truth to it that most people listen to the same music they listened to in high school as they get older. But here’s the thing: moving out of your comfort zone and listening to new music isn’t just good for you on a cultural level, there are actual real health benefits associated with broadening your artistic horizons.
Listening to new music activates multiple areas of our brains, stimulating memory and information processing centers. It can also rewire our dopamine system: part of the reason why old music sounds so good is that our familiarity with it triggers dopamine rushes. Like all good things, though, that effect dulls with time. Listening to new music creates new dopamine associations and expands your ability to feel that euphoric rush when a song you love is playing. There are also studies that have found that listening to unfamiliar music can foster a more “open mind perspective” that makes you more willing to engage with new ideas, cultures, and technologies.
Article by Austin Brietta