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Music / April 2016

How Music Transforms Your Mind & Your Workout

With the peak of music festival season fast approaching, April-centric fests like Coachella, the Stagecoach Music Fest in California, and The New Orleans Jazz Festival are not only good for entertainment, they're also good for your brain.

Like any effective workout, where you shape and tone your body, music is a vital force behind shaping and toning the way that we think, providing us with a need to move and twerk whenever we hear our favorite RiRi song.

To gain more perspective on the transformative powers of music, and why it makes your workouts so much better, we spoke with Dr. Jake Jolij, a neuroscientist from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, whose studied the effects of music on the brain and why it's so beneficial.

What happens when the brain hears music:

When the brain is exposed to music, it goes through a rigorous workout where it decomposes a song and make sense of the sounds it's hearing.

"It needs to know which sounds are the drums, which sounds are the chords, and which are the melodies," says Dr. Jolij. "At the same time, your brain will work out the beat (i.e. rhythm) in the music."

In order to do this, your brain relies on a lot of "specialized brain areas." These areas—including the auditory cortex, parts of your motor system (to work out the beat), and your language system—work together and process the songs we listen to.

What happens when songs make us feel feelings:

When you hear a song you love, it's responding to both the tempo and the tonality. Slower songs, with a slower tempo, typically makes us feel more sorrowful while songs with a faster tempo make us feel more jovial.

"It may have something to do with activation of the motor system," says Jolij. "Music directly activates the parts of the brain that make you move, and we know that exercise improves mood."

With tonality, the relation between notes of a scale or key, when a song is in a major key, they tend to be more upbeat. When a song is in a minor key, they are often more downcast.

"According to some researchers," says Dr. Jolij, "it is a learnt association, but others claim that there is something inherently different in minor chords versus major chords which make us associate them with specific emotions."

And while it's still not determined why we cry whenever we hear "Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M., or pump it up whenever we hear anything by Beyonce, if you want a song that will motivate you and pick you up whenever you work out, uptempo songs are always the best choice.

What happens to the brain when we work out and listen to music at the same time:

Ever wondered why workouts are so much better with music? Well, it turns out that the answer is more simplistic than you might think.

"Music will most likely make it easier," says Jolij. "We know that music changes the excitability of the motor system. It is easier for the brain to send commands to your muscles exactly on the beat of the music you're listening to."

With the mind/body relationship working at equal speeds, pairing the rhythm of your music to the rhythm of your workout will enhance your fitness routines.

"Listening to the right workout music, in particular if that music fits well with the rhythm of the exercises you're doing," says Jolij, "will make working out easier, or al least more fun!"

Music / April 2016