Music, The Brain, and Mental health… from childhood to old age

The relationship between the music, our brain, and mental health in the different stages of our life is most interesting. It touches on a number of subjects related to left brain vs right brain development, the role of language, and the role of music in acquiring different skill sets and thinking styles related to different brain functions. The below discussion builds on different sources including the tiger mom’s blog, and a study whose results where published in the daily mail newspaper.

What Music can Make Kids become more Creative/Intuitive and Psychologically Healthier, Developing an Advanced Right Brain not just Left-Brained People? Could be that Mandarin (main language in china), because it is a tonal language (each letter can be pronounced in one of four tones) helps develop right brain thinking more by innately integrating music into its structure ??

Brain Waves

The below figure shows and explains some left-brain and right-brain functions, illustrating some of the differences between them.

keep in mind that most schoolwork is left-brain: It focuses on Math/Science, Logic/Reasoning, and Details/Order, Verbal/Words.. so how can we help balance this with a child’s right brain development?

Fields such as Music/Arts, Imagination/Creativity, Random/Holistic, risk taking/intuition, sequence/structure train the right brain, but how much training is enough ?

We can look at different patterns of brain waves to get a more in-depth look at this phenomena.. Our brain waves fluctuate throughout the day as we engage in various activities, but we can also purposely speed up or slow down your brain waves to achieve different objectives.

For example, closing your eyes and taking a deep breath are two common ways to slow down your brain waves. You can’t close your eyes while you work, of course, but you can listen to alpha wave music that slows down your brain waves, so that you can access the highest part of your intellect.

The below figure shows different types of brain waves…

Types of Brain Waves: There are four kinds of brain waves, indicated by the frequency of the waves. Here they are from fastest to slowest.

Beta brain waves : heightened activity. This is the brain frequency of doing daily tasks. It is the frequency of rational and analytical thought.

Alpha brain waves – Awake, but relaxed. You experience this right as you fall asleep and as you wake up naturally without an alarm clock.

Think about remembering something really important, or experiencing a Eureka! moment as you fall asleep or wake up.. These are the effects of being in alpha state.

Theta brain waves – REM sleep, where we experience emotion; Delta brain waves – Deep sleep or unconsciousness

So what are the benefits Alpha waves and being in Alpha state?

Faster learning and better reception of information happen in alpha state, (great for studying or concentrating).

Alpha state is perfect for problem-solving, because one sees the grand scheme of things, allowing for big-picture thinking.

Creativity increases in alpha state.

Alpha brain waves also increase intuition.

Alpha Wave Classical Music

Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder’s breakthrough book Superlearning popularized alpha wave music discussed the idea that music at 60 bpms (beats per minute) can induce alpha waves.

Some movements of Baroque Classical music have been shown to induce Alpha state, particularly pieces from Bach’s Cello Suites, the Largo from “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” and music by Handel and George PhilippTelemann.

The tempo of these pieces relaxes you and slows the brain down to the optimal frequency to reach alpha state. It stimulates alpha waves in both the left and right hemisphere of the brain, allowing you to access intellect and creativity together.

Listening to the right music while learning to stimulate alpha waves can after long-term training, increase creativity and intuition.

Language and The Brain

Mandarin (the most used language in china) characters(patterns) have 4 tones(music) each.. a letter can be read in one of four tones.. This seems to help in training the right brain several hours a day.. Can this ‘musical’ aspect of mandarin be a factor in increasing intelligence and creativity on the long term??

Also english letters are more abstract compared to Chinese characters, which are patterns, again meaning that mandarin invokes the right brain more in pattern-recognition activity.

On another level, playing video games and fancy 3-D scenes train the right brain, but the trade-off is crowding out other learning. Also spending more time in listening to music on a daily basis, excites the right brain.

Music and Long-term mental health

Another dimension is the relationship between practicing playing music and long term mental health. Playing Music is a good activity to empower the right/creative brain, and can probably enhance thoughts and memory links.. Connecting logical (left-brain) with emotional (right-brain) thoughts helps improve memories of both types of experiences…

Piano practice can seem to be the bane of a child’s life – but there might be an added benefit for it. This study has found that learning a musical instrument as a child can keep you sharp into old age.

The study proved a correlation between Pensioners having had piano, flute, clarinet or other lessons as a youngster, and doing better on intelligence tests than others. And the longer they had played the instrument for, the better they did! The American Psychological Association journal Neuropsychology reports.

University of Kansas researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy:

‘Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of ageing.

‘Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.’

This is the first study to examine whether thoe effects of children’s studying of music can extend across a lifetime.

The study included total of 70 healthy adults between 60 and 83 years old who were split up into groups depending on musical experience. Those with musical backgrounds did better than the others in various cognitive tests.All of those with musical backgrounds were amateurs who had started playing an instrument at around 10 years old, of which  more than half played the piano, with others playing the flute, strings, clarinet, percussion or brass.

Additionally those who had played music longer scored better at the tests, illustrating a link to the length of experience as well. Also, high-level musicians who still played at an advanced age produced similar results to the most skilled players who had given up.

This concludes that the duration of the musical study was – interestingly – more important than whether they continued playing in their older years.

Dr Hanna-Pladdy said:

‘Based on previous research and our study results, we believe that both the years of musical participation and the age of acquisition are critical.

‘There are crucial periods in brain plasticity (versatility) that enhance learning, which may make it easier to learn a musical instrument before a certain age and thus may have a larger impact on brain development.’



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