Your Brain on Music

During this economical meltdown that’s due to global irrational fear, we have finally been given back sports and other relaxing forms of entertainment—that is, except for the music scene. I’m not a sports fan so bringing this back did nothing for me. But then again, the lockdown didn’t really do anything for me either. My life was not affected whatsoever, except for what I’m about to talk about and a new hobby of watching the surrounding humans who’d decided to take after that one Asian lady on the bus who always wore a face mask—trends gotta come from somewhere, I guess.

One good thing the lockdown had brought us was more music being made by bands taking advantage of the situation and locking themselves in the studio. By the way, if your band hasn’t come out with a new album in the next few weeks, what the hell are you doing?

Where I live is known as the “live music capital of the world,” but is losing this title each day the music venues remain closed. The only venues that have been given the OK by the “Covid police” were not even worth attending—having to social distance or the artists not even being there; instead, being shown via video projections and even holograms. Why is this? If people can attend a football game wearing masks, why can’t live music come back? In fact, why have, if not all, then most of the arts slowly been withering away from society?

Today, if a child declares he wants to be an artist, writer, musician, etc., he is steered in another direction by parents and teachers who claim there is no way to make a career or be financial secure in these pursuits. I hate to say it, but it’s true. However, when has an artist ever expressed himself creatively for the sole purpose of making money?

I understand our world revolves around it, but just because millennials can’t afford their NY or LA studio apartments because they don’t know how to make capital, doesn’t mean we should do away with a working system to bring in their misunderstanding of communism. But that’s a topic for another time. This is a theory of mine as to why music (besides the mindless electronic noise of the mainstream that is filled subliminal tones) is slowly being deleted from us. (*This is solely a personal theory that I don’t really subscribe to, music will come back and will never go away.)

With the population slowly being either reduced or dumbed down with both legal and illegal drugs, genetically modified food, fluoridated water, and mercury in the air, why would they want to keep something that helps reestablish cognitive and neurological functions in the brain?

Yes, not only does listening to music produce an array of emotions within you, it also alters and aids in the brain’s physiology. It can even be seen having an affect on those diagnosed as socio- and psychopaths.

The brain is a problem-solving engine, or a prediction engine. In other words, we derive pleasure from solving problems, seeing patterns, understanding ideas, and predicting outcomes. Music can be seen as a microcosm of this, being full of many various patterns, rhythms, harmonies, melodies, and relationships; not to mention, making predictions as to what’s coming next.

Music is not always meant to bring us pleasure however. When it purposefully employs dissonance, it may have been composed to evoke certain emotions other than pleasurable ones. As humans, we clearly are not always happy. Music can be used to elicit any mood (which varies with each person). Music that elicits emotion that reminds us of a negative event forces us to reflect on said event as a way of transmuting a “negative” event into a more positive perception. This happens with us allowing ourselves to reflect on our own internal response to “negative” emotions.

This also explains why my middle school and high school days were spent wearing headphones with a repetitive mix of Elliot Smith and 80s underground “post-punk.” As well as why old record store employees and Juliard-trained prodigies listen to jazz, prog rock, math rock, and other types of music that defies any notions of what Billboard’s Top 40 makes popular.

The more sophisticated one becomes in a particular genre, such as contemporary classical music—math rock—or anything with bizarre time signatures, the better one becomes at recognizing those patterns. Since these patterns are more complicated and sometimes more hidden in musical structure, discovering them brings even more pleasure and a greater appreciation for music.

If a pattern is very simple, obvious, and superficial, one will listen to it once or twice before it becomes boring, which is what happens a lot with music designed for mass consumption. However, I believe strong lyrics are a way to beef these simple songs back up to something memorable.

Life is made up of patterns, mathematical, geometrical, fractal, etc.—all revolving around the Golden Ratio, or Fibonacci Sequence. With parents using prenatal headphones, such as BellyBuds, we know music is a good thing for a baby. But why and how?

Well, the younger one is exposed to music, the quicker they are able to learn and identify the patterns, and grow to appreciate a variety of genres, styles, and arrangements, both in music and in life. Not only does music do a lot of good for babies, it also helps humans of all ages.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which depicts brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow, scans were made of 21 people while listening to their most liked and most disliked music from among five genres, as well as a song they had previously named as their personal favorite. These fMRI scans showed a co sister pattern:

The music the individual preferred had the greatest impact on brain connectivity, particularly with brain circuits involved in internally focused thought, empathy, and self-awareness. This circuit was poorly connected when listening to music they disliked. In listening to their favorite songs, researchers found more brain connectivity between auditory areas of the brain and a region responsible for memory and social emotion consolidation.

This is what music therapy is all about. It’s commonly an integral part of the rehabilitation process for people who have had strokes, brain surgery, or traumatic brain injuries. Music has restored neuroplasticity in the brain to reestablish some of the connections that were there before the injury. It also helps people suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive and physical problems, by reconnecting with the world through music.

Rather than dishing out pill after pill of harmful chemicals to these patients, they’d be better off with an iPod prescription playlist featuring songs popular when they were under the age of 30.

“People who were just sitting there, not engaged in anything, light up when they start hearing music from when they were 25,” states Jonathon Burdette, MD.

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