If music be the food of health, play ON!

How is music processed?
How might we use it to support memory & brain health?

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Source: MedicalNewsToday

Music and Physical Health

In last week’s post, an original Tallis Steelyard tale from author Jim Webster, we saw how music awakened the soul of a woman who was struggling with dementia, barely alert until called by the song.

As I noted at the end:
Music has been well documented to remain in the minds of Alzheimer’s patients long after other memories and much of their Executive Functioning capabilities have faded.

Patients often retain memories of well-loved songs, which gives them a great deal of pleasure, and some can still play instruments. The description of life flooding back into formerly vacant eyes in response to music has been reported repeatedly.

Medical researchers have long noted that listening to or playing music can result in changes in our bodies, regardless of our age or current state of mental alertness, however.

For example, lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been observed in the presence of music. Better sleep and a lowered heart rate are associated with listening to music as well.

Even when you are a bit out of sorts, don’t you feel better immediately when a song comes on that reminds you of a particularly happy memory?

Science rings in

Dr. Charles Limb is a musician and surgeon who specializes in cochlear implants at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. He has been researching how our brain makes that happen. He and his team analyzed neurological responses to a variety of music, especially jazz and hip-hop.

In studies with magnetic resonance imaging [MRI], they have been particularly interested in finding out which areas of the brain “light up” when jazz musicians are improvising or rappers are “freestyling.”

The Universal Language?

They observed that the areas of the brain activated when jazz players are improvising are actually the language centers of the brain (the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior superior temporal gyrus).

When rappers were freestyling with their eyes closed within the MRI scanner, the researchers observed major activity in the visual and motor coordination areas of the brain.

  • Connection to movement centers certainly makes sense, if you think about it. Since rappers are usually moving when they rap, those areas are likely to be brain-linked.
  • But the visual areas?  Hmmmmmm . . . neurolinked to a video perhaps, or choreography?

Seeing when you listen

Haven’t you noticed that when you listen to music your brain sends you visual information as well — a flash of the club where you first danced to the tune, or the face of your partner when it came on the radio, right before you kissed for the first time?

Some people imagine scenes of their own private movie as they hear certain orchestral arrangements. Others report seeing abstract colors and shapes that flow and change with any music they hear. Maybe you see a few moments of a particular marketing video?

I challenge anyone who’s ever watched one of Michael Jackson’s music videos to listen to that track on the radio without at least a flash or two of a moving image!

Even in a Scanner

The brain seems to call upon its language, visual and motor coordination mechanisms when imagining and responding creatively to music both, even when the participants are lying still, eyes closed, and within a scanner.

In fact, Dr. Limb’s team found that the areas of the brain that were formerly associated with interpreting music – the angular gyrus and the supra marginal gyrus, which process semantic information (meaning, vocabulary, etc.) – are deactivated while musicians are improvising.

So what does that indicate about memory and healthy brain aging?

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Does music make memories “stick” better?

Ging-Yuek Hsiung, assistant professor in the Division of Neurology at the University of British Columbia in Canada, has been using functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI] to determine the scientific basis for the benefits seen with music therapies for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In the patients with Alzheimer’s, Hsiung found their brains “lit up” in a very different way when they were engaging with music than when they were listening, speaking or reading.

That led Prof. Hsiung and his team to suspect that the brain encodes memories of music in a manner somewhat differently than it encodes memories in other arenas.

Hsiung’s results suggest that when a memory is associated with music, the information that makes up that memory is stored across several different areas of the brain, rather than consolidated in one particular location.

He believes it would be likely to take much more brain damage or degeneration to erase a music-related memory than a regular memory – so that the music-related memories would remain more reliable throughout life.

That certainly changes how we feel about kids who insist on studying with music blaring in the background, doesn’t it? Maybe we need to insist that they turn it down rather than off!

But wait, there’s more . . .

Researchers are currently investigating whether music can be used effectively to access and stimulate damaged areas of the brain. They have have had some initial success in stroke patients, reporting improved memory and lowered levels of stress hormones, displaying fewer symptoms of irritability and depression.  WOW!

GREAT news, huh?

So go turn on some music – or play some.
It seems to be great for your brain!
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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

136 Responses to If music be the food of health, play ON!

  1. Music does transport me from the complexities of the now, a comforting and restful respite. Reminds I must turn off the news on TV all day and do music instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Christy B says:

    Wow Madelyn this is an awesome post! I love that you tie in music with health, pulling up research and explaining so much of what we experience while listening to jazz and other genres. I’ll be thinking of you the next time I “car dance” in my driver’s seat at a red light 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A brilliant article, Madelyn. I absolutely love music and most songs that I listen to put me in a good [read as better] mood than I was in before. I always listen to my favourite music [there is lots] on my way to work so maybe that is why I always arrive very happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Susan Scott says:

    Thank you – will save post to re-read. So good to hear that research backs up what has almost been intuitively known for aeons – that music lights up various areas of the brain, some beneficial in some way to the listener, in other ways maybe not so healthy eg music that is extremely loud and jangly. May those who suffer dementia, maybe depression and other such, be inspired to ‘listen to music’ …

    Liked by 1 person

  5. John Fioravanti says:

    Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
    Madelyn Griffith-Haynie discusses the link between music and our physical health – a fascinating read!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. There is such profound healing in music. 💚

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you Madelyn for such an interesting post. I imagine that there is so much more to music than we suspect. I cannot imagine life without it. Singing gives me such a boost. My young cousin is visiting hospices and working with the dying to create their Swan Song. There is si much more that can b

    Liked by 1 person

  8. blondieaka says:

    I am so pleased to hear that science is now recognising what I have always believed…Everyone should have music in their life and it should be mandatory in schools even if they are tone deaf and only play a triangle all kids should be taught to play a musical instrument..I was the favourite Nannie when I bought the drum set…lol…A lovely post to raise that awareness, Madelyn 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. dgkaye says:

    Fab post M! The thing about music is everyone can relate to it, no matter the genre. It does evoke memories in all of us – that certain song that reminds of a certain moment in time. It is soothing so no doubt it calms cortisol. It’s been documented that many a patient with Dementia or Alzheimer’s reacts to the stimulation of music, especially since those sufferers often get lost in the past with the disease. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Got point, Deb. The older memories seem to be the ones that remain longest with the dementias – easily stimulated, I’d suppose, by the tunes of that time.

      One thing I’ve never seen a study about is drug addiction/overdosing in musicians – especially in the rock & pop community. That seems to fly in the face of everything else we read about music’s benefits. I’ve always wondered if it only seems so because most of the deaths are so highly publicized, or if there’s a reason for the anomaly (like the unremitting pressure of being in the public eye). Your cortisol comment made me think of it).


  10. paulandruss says:

    Wow, this is absolutely brilliant Madelyn, I have learned so much in this article how about how the brain stores memories and the senses are inter-related. A real eye opener… not to mention an ear opener!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Mary Smith says:

    Great post, Madelyn. It’s something I’ve been interested in since seeing how music affected Dad when he had dementia. I was astounded to realise he knew the words of every Jim Reeves song even though five minutes later he couldn’t remember where he’d been.

    I don’t know if you have heard of the work Sally Magnusson has been involved in since she saw how much music mattered to her mother when she had Alzheimers? She recommends we all put together our own personal playlist for later.

    Here’s a link: https://www.playlistforlife.org.uk

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mary – especially for letting me know about Magnusson and Playlist for Life. I paid only a quick visit and plan to return to check around. What a wonderful idea and a wonderful resource.

      If you’ve written a post about music and your father (or the PlayList project), please leave me a link in a comment or two and I’ll move them up (and/or link them to something I eventually write about this project)

      There’s an older post here with a couple of recommendations along the same line (planning now “for later”) that you might find interesting: How do you want to die?


      Liked by 1 person

  12. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    As I pack up for the night I like to leave you with something to think about. I have always maintained that music is another food group and when I look back on my life, I recognise there were times when music was instrumental(no pun intended) in keeping me going. Madelyn Griffith-Haynie expands on this in her post with some avenues of research I have been following too. The work with dementia and stroke patients that has identified that music can reach parts of the brain that speech and activities cannot. I cannot imagine my life without music… head over and read the article and discover why.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Wonderful post, Madelyn. I think music is one of the foundations of creation and exists naturally in all things. That rhythm of the ocean waves and the beats of our hearts are a couple obvious examples. When I worked with little kids who didn’t speak English, the first and easiest way to pick up the language was with songs. It’s no wonder that it’s the universal language and has a way of reaching through the barriers of separation, learning, and decline. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Fascinating studies supporting what I’ve long suspected – thank you, Madelyn, for this excellent article. Since I am one of those strange people who see music in colors and hear colors as music, I can very much relate to the concept of visual impact of music. For instance, Jackson Pollack’s paintings sound like symphonies to me, and I can stand and listen to them for hours.
    However, the memory aspect of it is a novel one to me, and a very important one, as I am sure it is to many of your readers.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Bernadette says:

    I absolutely believe that music can help restore brain functions. When Andrew was in a coma, my son David, who has a PhD in music, said to get head phone and the Goldberg Variations and play it around the clock. I truly believe that doing this helped retrieve Andrew from the grey zone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was unaware of that, Bernadette, but I have no doubt that you are right on about the healing supplied through the vibrations of music.

      Sue Vincent left a similar comment about music bringing her son Nick back from a protracted coma following severe brain damage and recover cognitive functioning subsequently (speech return, etc) — where he was expected to have little to no functioning if he ever recovered.

      We have MUCH to learn about the benefits of music – and much that we know already is buried in scientific tomes rarely read by the public at large (and often misreported by the press – sometimes misrepresented even the “second tier” science pubs).

      Liked by 1 person

  16. noelleg44 says:

    What a good post! Music does indeed soothe the savage beast! I have so many memories attached to different songs – and I notice they now offer music to people having MRIs (anything has to be better than being in a tube with all the clacking noise!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Jennie says:

    I’m so glad to read this post, Madelyn. Music is one of the most important and powerful parts of my preschool class. It stimulates the brain. It fills the heart. I sing the words to the books I read. I have children jump as they sing letters and words. I tell children that the music goes into their ears and then into their heart. If we’re painting I add, and out your fingers (yes, we paint to music).

    Liked by 1 person

  18. -Eugenia says:

    Excellent post, Madelyn. Music has been my best friend from a very early age. My mother loved music and passed it on to me. “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” Maya Angelou

    Liked by 1 person

  19. colinandray says:

    Anybody who says that more music is good for me…. gets my “happy vote”! Thanks Madelyn. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I guess we didn’t really need the science to reinforce the power of music in our lives, but it is all so fascinating. The connection with emotion, memory, language development, brain triggers. I use music to match or elevate my mood, it always works for me…even going for the sad songs at times when a good cry is important. Lovely post, M.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lol – we don’t NEED the science, but some folks won’t believe it until science rings in – so I’m always happy to see that some science guy got funding to study it. I wish we could learn MORE about the benefits of music.

      I do the sad music thing too – for the same reason – and a driving beat in the background makes cleaning chores less odious.

      Liked by 1 person

      • colinandray says:

        Going off on a bit of a tangent perhaps but ” but some folks won’t believe it until science rings in” really arouses my interest! We have been really well brainwashed by science such that so many people will not accept what is not scientifically proven. Conversely, it probably does not exist of science cannot prove it to be so. I find that level of arrogance incredible, because it is inferring that “science” knows everything there is to know about everything. There are many scientists who do not believe that, so why do so many non-scientific folk???? We are an odd species! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Not a tangent at all, Colin for THIS blog! Much of science is misreported – by the press and on various blogs – usually overstating (in both directions), often flat-out lying. And public [lack of] understanding is fueled by soundbites biased by agenda.

          What most people don’t understand is that “the scientific method” – and the reason for replication studies – has its foundation in the idea that theories must be “falsifiable,” with studies designed from there.

          Credible scientists know that they can’t really “prove” anything, they can simply study and report on high degrees of correlation – or lack of any. Studies can uncover truths but not really “proof”s.

          And, of course, playing fast and loose with that “proof” concept, they can’t prove what they don’t study. Which all comes down to bio-medical research FUNDING – which our current so-called “leader” is hell-bent on getting rid of. (Don’t get me started!)


  21. People with an ABI are really connected when it comes to music. Example: A guy I’ve met in the ABI Community was in a coma(presuming for some length of time considering what a Nuffer He is) He recalls the song that was on the radio when he awake. Stairway to heaven! Cheers,H

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Sue Vincent says:

    Music has played a huge part in Nick’s recovery. When he was still in the coma, we constantly had his favourite music playing and the best DJs of the genre put together mixes and recorded messages especially for him. Those same songs still affect his mood and abilities dramatically… motivating him when he gets down, energising and generally lifting him up. I am convinced that the healing qualities of music need to be further explored.

    Picking up on Jim’s comment and your response, I agree that the cadence of poetry is fixed firmly in memeory, especially when learned young and associated with love. I also believe that many of the ancient teaching stories were crafted in poetic forms for just that reason…so they could be remembered, shared and transmitted to future generations.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. jwebster2 says:

    I know people who take church services in nursing homes. They will often see people deteriorate over the years, particularly in those homes which do look after people with Alzheimers.

    One thing a lot of them have noticed is that people who the staff wheel in and who are no longer reacting will start to smile, beat time to the music and even sing when you play one of the older hymns they knew when they were younger

    We had a case of a very elderly clergyman who was almost never communicated but who joined in the Lord’s Prayer

    So to me this research appears to be on the right road

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Lucy Brazier says:

    Ah, Music! It is like magic. There is always music on in my home, I would be lost without it, it is the most beautiful and pure of all the arts.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I agree with you… music creates images … and they can help to deal with sad or difficult things… and it can be THE memory hook when we try to remember a name or a year…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent point about the “hook.” Thanks for that!

      So many events of our lives are linked to the music we listened to at the time – and so many seem to come flooding back when we hear particular tunes again — even in our heads (and even when our memories are fairly stable otherwise -lol- we don’t have to be “over the hill.”)

      I hardly ever think of some of my old boyfriends – or teachers – for example, and doubt I’d recall some of their names at all but for music’s promptings. But they pop right in when I hear certain songs.


  26. I totally agree with your words of inspiration, Madelyn. Music is the Being of the Soul and today people are getting awakened to Music that helps people with so many problems that they sure can be cured. You have described it so well that there is nothing more for me to quote. It keeps you occupied at all times. Thanks for the wonderful share.

    Liked by 1 person

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