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Music Really is Medicine…For the Brain


Interesting new research out of Canada has revealed why playing a musical instrument can help preserve listening skills and even help prevent cognitive decline in the elderly.

In the study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that learning to play a sound on a musical instrument can change brain waves in a manner that temporarily boosts the capacity to hear and listen. This altered brain function displays the brain’s ability to rewire itself and compensate for injuries or diseases that have impaired a person’s performance of everyday tasks.

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“Music has been known to have beneficial effects on the brain, but there has been limited understanding into what about music makes a difference,” says senior author Dr. Bernhard Ross, senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute. “This is the first study demonstrating that learning the fine movement needed to reproduce a sound on an instrument changes the brain’s perception of sound in a way that is not seen when listening to music.”

Creating Music Found to Stimulate a Strong Change in Brain Activity

The participants in the study were made up of 32 young, healthy adults with normal hearing and no neurological disorders. Their brain waves were recorded while they listened to sounds from a Tibetan singing bowl. Afterwards, half of the individuals were given the singing bowl and asked to recreate the sounds by striking it, while the other half was asked to recreate the sounds by pressing a key on a computer.

“It has been hypothesized that the act of playing music requires many brain systems to work together, such as the hearing, motor and perception systems,” says Ross. “This study was the first time we saw direct changes in the brain after one session, demonstrating that the action of creating music leads to a strong change in brain activity.”

The possible future applications of the finding are fascinating. In the next phase of the study, researchers will explore the effect of musical training on the brains of the elderly, as well as determine if the activity can help people recover from the effects of a stroke. The scientists hope to develop rehabilitation programs for disorders that impede normal movement, such as a traumatic brain injury.

Music Really is Medicine

Although music has been valued for its emotional benefits for a long time, the study of using song, rhythm and sound frequencies to treat physical disorders is a relatively new field. In a 2013 research project, scientists at McGill University in Montreal examined a meta-analysis of 400 studies on the effects of music and found that it relieves anxiety by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They also noted that it increases the production of the antibody immunoglobulin A, a substance that attacks viruses and enhances immunity.

A related field involving sound vibrations is called vibroacoustic therapy. Research conducted in 2009 at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario suggests it may reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, as its effects included alleviating rigidity and tremors, along with improving walking speed.

In summary, we see that listening to music has broad range of health benefits. However, the act of playing music has an even more powerful action, as it helps rewire the brain, which has implications for stroke recovery.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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