We all know by now that music affects us emotionally. It is a strong companion of therapeutic remedies and remained synchronous to our deepest emotions of anger and angst when even our closest friends could not resonate with us quite as well. So, how does music manage to affect us so deeply? Where does it all begin? Well, where everything else begins of course: our brain!
Scientifically, music is thought to stimulate a widespread range of activity around much of the brain. Many neuroscientists attribute music’s profound effect on us to this theory, noting that because so many parts of the brain are stirred by and involved in the processing of music, that music therefore has more of an acute access to pathways between neurons. Thus, when we are driving along the coast or wandering through a city listening to our favourite track and we get that unique feeling – the one where we are wholly consumed by or attached to whatever is filling our auditory senses, it is because we kind of are.
From a high-level standpoint, music is processed mainly via the prefrontal and temporal cortexes. What is interesting, however, is that the prefrontal cortex has a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde involvement in the listening to or performing of music. A study by neuroscientist of music, Charles Limb, placed musicians in MRI machines to track activity of the brain throughout the creative process. This and other studies noted a decline of activity in areas of the prefrontal cortex that are highly associated with planning, reasoning and conscious self-monitoring. However, a great deal of the community, including Limb, attested that the creative process requires work and is not a random process. Basically, describing why we feel the way we do from music is almost more difficult than describing how we feel the way we do. But, one thing is for sure: it’s a complex process.
Indeed, it could be possible that music – a human creation from as early as time – would be the one invention of all the many millions to open up vast new doors in modern science.