by Susan Hirtz
Susan Hirtz is an educator, consultant and researcher who answers the question,
“Why does music make us feel good?”
A young woman asked me why she feels so good when she plays her instrument, something
she is particularly good at doing. Her friends and relatives truly enjoy listening to her, so she
gets lots of approval and encouragement.
While those are fringe benefits available to the select few, encouragement and popularity are
not the true positive results of music and arts education. Music serves a very special function
in the brain, stimulating our ability to think in areas not stimulated any other way. According
to studies published recently in Canadian Geographic magazine, “There are few activities that
require more of the brain than playing music. It uses complex feedback systems that take in
information, such as pitch and melody, through the auditory cortex, and allow the performer to
adjust his playing…”
All in all, playing music stimulates eight additional parts of the brain: the visual cortex, motor
cortex, sensory cortex, premotor area, frontal lobe, and the cerebellum. Five additional areas
in the inner brain are stimulated from listening to music you enjoy. Some of those are the
same areas associated with the euphoric pleasure associated with drugs. It can also give us
release from anxiety. “… activity in the amygdala is inhibited. This is the part of the brain that is
typically associated with negative emotion, such as fear.”
“Research shows musical training in children enhances the activity of important neural systems.
Changes are in regions of the brain that relate to playing an instrument, such as the auditory
cortex, used for processing musical tones; the motor cortex, a region activated when using the
hands or fingers; the cerebellum, a part of the brain used in timing and learning; and the corpus
callosum, which acts as a bridge between both hemispheres of the brain.”
Thus, people with early musical education and musical training develops both sides of their
brains and can apply their brains more fully in other areas such as mathematics and language.
Music stimulates language development in the brain and makes it easier to learn math as it is
based on its own language.
What happens if there is no music education before puberty? The brain is simply not capable of
adjusting like this when it isn’t in the early growth stage and the modifications don’t take place.
So my young friend feels so good because she has a complete release from stress and can
think even better. Her brain is firing all over the place, making human electronic connections it