3 Ways That Music Affects the Brain and Your Hearing

NZH Music blog headerWhen it comes to our hearing, it’s important to remember that we not only hear with our ears, but also with our brains. Research has shown that musicians have bigger, better connected, more sensitive brains.

“Musicians have superior working memory, auditory skills, and cognitive flexibility”.

Listening to music is one thing, but learning to play an instrument has an even bigger impact on brain function, and the way it affects our hearing in the long run, at all stages of life. Take a look at 3 ways that music can affect your brain, and how it can help to rehabilitate some aspects of hearing.

1. Improves selective auditory attention

People with impaired hearing will often notice that it’s harder to concentrate on someone’s voice when there are other noises in the background - in a café or restaurant for example. Additionally, those with tinnitus have almost the opposite dilemma, where they are only able to focus on the ringing in their ears. Through their training, musicians have strengthened brain networks that allow them to intentionally hone in on specific sources of sound, and almost block out the surrounding noises.

In some cases, music can provide a potential benefit to auditory attention for non-musicians, as the brain learns to focus on individual sources of sound. This helps to stay focused on speech, while selectively “ignoring” all the competing background noise. Some hearing aids now assist with this aspect of hearing, which also helps to train our brains to stay locked in on the sounds we want to hear. 

2. Stimulates brain activity

When you listen to or play music, your brain gets a total workout. Stimulating your brain in this way, especially as you get older, helps to retain important listening skills, as well as ward off age-related cognitive decline. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that learning to play a sound on a musical instrument adjusts brain waves in a way that improves listening and hearing skills over a period of time.

Another study by scientists from Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, showed that this kind of musical training had long lasting effects, despite severe hearing loss. In their study they found that musicians could pick up on harmonies that were slightly off-key, even though they had lost most of their hearing. Factory workers who experienced similar levels of hearing loss were not able to make the same observations.

3. Enhances speech understanding

Not only has singing and music been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, it may also benefit our hearing. More specifically, it may improve the way we hear and understand conversations, thanks to the way it can develop fine-grained pitch perception, which helps to support speech perception in noise.

For example, when we sing with other people in a group or choir, the brain releases endorphins that makes us happier and more creative, but might also help to identify nuances in speech. Our brain learns to pick up on these subtle changes more easily over time, as you train it to tune in more intentionally.

Whether you learn to play an instrument, listen to your favourite tunes online, or enjoy going to live concerts, music can have a profound effect on your brain and hearing health. If you’d like to make the most of the music you’re listening to but your hearing isn’t quite as good as it used to be - be sure to get in touch with us for a comprehensive hearing check up so you can feel your best, and enjoy the sounds you know and love.

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