An image of the brain processing music shows the involvement of a variety of the brain’s structures. Science has demonstrated that the neuropathways in the brain used in making music are the same neuropathways used for mathematics, spatial skills, reasoning and logic. Music is science. It embodies many of the elements of physics, from acoustics to architecture. It is an exact and highly organized discipline. It is rhythmically based on the subdivision of time in space into fractions, in a highly specific form with regard to exact placement and symmetry.
The brain learns from repetition, and there are few activities that possess the repetition that occurs when playing piano. The right and left sides of the brain are used simultaneously to bring two separate lines of music together in harmony. When those notes come together, they become a language – with phrases, thoughts and ideas. That language triggers emotions. The notes played communicate a part of our humanity where words no longer suffice.
According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, increased dopamine levels “show how music can have a profoundly powerful force on our emotions and pleasure pathways.” Why do some tunes sound ‘sad’ and others ‘happy?’ Why do we experience a sense of pending doom when we hear the opening measures of Beethoven’s 5th symphony? The movie industry knows all too well that music has a profound effect on altering emotion. It becomes the non-verbal expression of happiness, sadness, suspense, fear and other feelings. Imagine your favorite movie without the sound track. Will the absence of music alter your perception of the storyline?
Perhaps the most important effect of music on the brain is the one most difficult to measure. Playing piano teaches you to recognize beauty. As we play, we become more sensitive to the thoughts and feelings put into sound throughout the ages. We become inextricably linked to our cultural heritage. We become closer to the infinity of our heart and soul and gain a deeper appreciation for the value of our own self.