You probably use music in your exercise routines already – for example, playing upbeat and surging electronic dance music on the treadmill or keeping gentle New Age going through your daily yoga.
It’s common knowledge that music can control and amplify our existing moods. In fact, civilizations around the world have used music to arouse emotions and feelings for thousands of years.
How Your Brain Understands Music
The brain understands music in much the same way that it understands a story. Appreciating, or “liking,” music depends a great deal on predicting what will happen next in the melody or song structure. Like a story with suspense, the brain responds to the unpredictable. And because it understands the music is not threatening, the brain’s frontal lobe responds to the changes in beat or timing with pleasurable impulses.
Another similar theory holds that the brain appreciates music because music is so closely tied to emotion. Scientists supporting this idea believe we use music in order to feel certain emotions in a kind of make-believe that the music both creates and reinforces. In this sense, we use music to literally create a soundtrack for our feelings the way movie directors use music to underscore the emotion of a scene.
Music and Memory
Music is one of the most powerful means of conjuring memories. For example, most people have a song that brings them back to senior year of high school or to a particularly pleasant summer vacation. This is partly because the brain’s emotion, language, and memory centers all play a part in processing the brain’s response to certain kinds of music. We remember music playing on emotionally powerful occasions and music powerfully evokes memories because music overlaps both sections of our minds.
Music and Mood Management
No brain is identical to any other and appreciating music is naturally a purely subjective experience. Also, as the brain changes with age, its responses to musical stimuli can change as well, perhaps explaining why the musical “geniuses” we adored as teenagers fail to hold our esteem as we get older.
A recent study by Penn State showed that most people listen to music while doing something else—chores, studying, driving, or exercising. The choice of music is largely determined by the task at hand. Ultimately, we seek the music that helps us accomplish what we want to do.
By Michael Kabel