Note: This brief article was published, citation information below.


Ang, M. (2004). “Music on the Brain!” MPH Quill. July 2004 issue. 6:18-19. (ISSN No.: 1675-7408).


It’s hard to escape the pervasive presence of music in today’s modern world. The battlefront to exert influence over the human entity has expanded to encompass not only the assault on our visual senses through the print media and the mass media, but also an intensified assault on our auditory senses through the air. The invention of recording and broadcast technologies in the realm of music and audio has provided the artillery for this new war. Where once upon a time, people had to move themselves into the presence of a musician or singer to enjoy the sweet refrains of melodies of their own choosing, today’s music is captured to disc, boxed up for sale and, through high energy loudspeakers, incessantly boomed into the ears of the unsuspecting – not melodies of their own choosing, but the choice of deejays and radio station supervisors. Step onto a bus, there you hear it. Go for groceries at your local supermarket, there it is. Want to enjoy a quiet meal out with friends or family? It isn’t easy to find a restaurant where the piped-in music doesn’t avariciously compete with your close-ones’ conversations for your attention. A drive anywhere is more often than not accompanied by the driver’s choice of music through increasingly sophisticated car audio systems – passengers remaining a politely captive audience. The battle lines extend to even the privacy of the home – turn on the television, what is the visual without sound? Turn on your computer, silent computing is a thing of history – today’s multimedia machines provide edutainment and gaming with music and sound effects second to none. Even your personal space is no longer silent or personal – the ring of your telephone, or more usually now the music alerts of your mobile, beckons to you no matter where you may be.

Without doubt we live in an increasingly noisy world. But a significant proportion of this “noise” started life as not a mere irritating intrusion into our private auditory space, but as “music” intended to entertain its listeners, soothe the savage beast, and just to generally enrich our lives! The result of today’s acoustic barrage has been the micro-evolution of the human species – we have instinctively learned to adapt to our environment. Our brain automatically filters what we hear, so that we only hear what we need to while blissfully ignoring the rest lest it drive us out of our minds. To quote Australian sound therapist Chris James, “We are now in a situation where the healing power of music and the secrets of the sound of the wind go the same way as the whippersnappers and refrigerators - filtered out.”

The major problem with this scenario is the proverbial issue of “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. While unsolicited noise certainly deserves rejection, the fact is that there are actually tremendous benefits to listening to the right kind of music at the right time. It is instructive to note that the sense of hearing develops in a foetus still in its mother’s womb, at the tender age of 20 weeks! Young children have an inborn natural response to music – mothers instinctively know this when they hum soothing lullabies to comfort their distressed babies. The celebrated “Mozart effect”, documented by researchers in neuroscience and music, indicates that our spatial-temporal reasoning skills are enhanced through listening to music containing specific characteristics, exemplified by Mozart’s music. Actively listening to music engages both the left and right hemispheres of the brain. For example, the left side of the brain is involved in recognizing pulse or rhythm, which involves unconscious analytical ability, while the right side of the brain is involved when the creative imagination is triggered through associative responses to music. In young children, whose brains are rapidly developing, the strengthening of these neural firing patterns when listening to music actively enhances the communication between the left and right sides of the brain, resulting in a more balanced intellectual development where both the analytical/logical as well as the creative centres develop in tandem. It is necessary to stress here that not all music produces beneficial effects – researchers have also found that listening to the wrong kind of music can actually be very harmful. Scientific experiments have discovered that foetal heart rates steadied and kicking lessened when pregnant mothers were exposed to music by Mozart and Vivaldi, while rock music caused foetuses to kick violently instead! Certainly, the association of music with words causes those words to be deeper implanted within our subconscious - repeated listening to songs proclaiming negative values and emotions permanently etch those values and emotions into our innermost being. Brain research has shown that music possessing certain characteristics induces the brain to produce certain brainwaves associated with certain states of mind. For example, music that is simple, slow and soft, without sudden increases in volume or change of speed, can lull the mind to sleep through inducing the production of delta brainwaves associated with the state of sleep. Other kinds of music can induce the production of beta brainwaves, which occur when we are concentrating or studying – helping us to work more productively.

The affect of music on our lives is actually very wide, encompassing many other areas, which we do not have the space to cover in this brief article, but including our physiology and emotions, with applications extending to the realms of medicine, therapy, education, sociology and advertising, to name a few.


Copyright ©2005 Minni Ang