“I regard music therapy as a tool of great power in many neurological disorders – Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s – because of its unique capacity to organize or reorganize cerebral function when it’s been damaged.” – Oliver Sacks, M.D., author of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
Music and the Brain
Actively participating in music engages all of the lobes of the brain and because of neural plasticity – the brains ability to adapt and change throughout our lives – music can actually change your brain. The trained musician will have an enlarged corpus callosum – the part of your brain which links the left and right hemispheres. This is because both the “creative” brain, and the “logical” brain need to work in synchronicity for music making to be possible. The left hemisphere makes sense of pulse, beat, and rhythm since the time signature of a song breaks down mathematically. The right hemisphere allows us to “feel” the music, and to experience the subjective qualities of a song. Some of our most vivid memories are associated with music and can be recalled by using music as a prompt; deeper emotional work can then be done within the session. The amygdalae, within the temporal lobes, facilitate this.
Neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine) play a significant role in our wellness and are what gives us that "happy high" we experience in things we love, like music, sports, and dancing; but it is also like the rush that comes from eating sugary foods, or using drugs and alcohol. Many diseases and disorders are characterized by a shortage of these chemicals in the brain, and while there are medications that can help boost those levels back up, music therapy is a non-invasive and non-habit-forming way of increasing production of these neurotransmitters instead.
As with any therapy, learning and attention are vitally important, and the parietal lobe integrates information from our senses to build a cohesive picture of our environment - the sound of a strumming guitar, the weight of the tambourine in your hands, the way the therapist sways to the beat all come together. Even the occipital lobe is activated by music because when music evokes a mental image in your “mind’s eye” your brain treats this image the same as it would if you were actually looking at something in front of you. Music Therapists understand which activities more acutely involve different areas of the brain, for instance how improvisation engages the decision-making capacities of the frontal lobe in a unique way. Moreover, it is important to be familiar with how the lobes of the brain function together seamlessly to create the experience of music and how to harness the power of music to make a meaningful impact on a deep neurological level.