If you’re a classical music devotee, you already know that the musical stylings of Beethoven, Vivaldi or Bach can transport you to another realm. For others, these masterpieces come just as a mere tune played in the doctor’s waiting room. Regardless of how you feel about classical music, research shows that classical music can affect the brain in a variety of positive ways, from boosting memory to aiding relaxation.

Brainpower and cognitive function

If they say that music is ‘food for the soul’, then classical compositions are omega-3, antioxidants and a pinch of caffeine. During a 1993 control group, physicist and University of California Professor Dr Gordon Shaw saw a spike in IQ in his college students after listening to Mozart. Labelled the ‘Mozart Effect,’  the study garnered a lot of scepticism and doubt from experts. Whilst the findings weren’t specifically linked to an answer in raised IQs, Dr Shaw believed that listening to Mozart could be useful to warm up parts of the brain that relate to abstract thought.

Echoing this, a study by Dr Kevin Labar says that music does have the power to improve intellectual performance and cognitive function, but not by raising the IQ. What actually happens is that the calming effect induced by classical music releases dopamine to spike pleasure. The dopamine also prevents the release of stress hormones. From here, mood is improved, which therefore clarifies thinking – making tasks like essay writing and studying a lot more enjoyable.

Relaxation and reduced stress

If you’re feeling stressed from work, school or everyday life – then sit back, close your eyes, and play Bach’s Twelve Little Preludes on the stereo. Why? Because classical music is intrinsically linked to reducing stress. A 2018 study on the effect of different types of music on patients’ preoperative anxiety shows that classical music can cause the heart rate and breathing to slow, and emotional distress to decrease. Classical music also lowers cortisol levels in the brain that can help lessen anxiety and lower blood pressure.

Next time your children are driving you up the wall, play some Chopin to not only soothe yourself, but to soothe them too.

Improved memory

Keep forgetting where you put your keys? Try listening to some classical music. A study from the Department of Medical Genetics, the University of Helsinki, Finland, shows that listening to just 20 minutes of classical music a day can modulate the genes responsible for brain function and memory. During the study, participants who listened to classical music were more likely to be positively affected. The research team noted an increase in dopamine secretion, synaptic function and the genes associated with learning and memory. This also included the gene synuclein-alpha (SNCA), which is often linked to how birds learn their song, suggesting the evolutionary background of sound perception and memory.

In this same study, classical music down-regulated genes associated with neurodegenerative diseases. A happy brain is a healthy brain, and classical music – especially that that evokes positive memories – can increase dopamine and neuroconnectivity in the system, slowing down the ageing process.

Assisted sleep

Finding sleep a struggle? Insomniacs, rejoice; there’s now an alternative to sleeping pills. A 2008 study by the Institute of Behavioural Science at Semmelweis University, Budapest, found that classical music induced a deep sleep in students struggling with sleep disorders – all because the music playing reduced sympathetic nervous system activity, decreased anxiety and lowered the blood pressure of participants, helping the participants drift off to sleep.

So why do classical tunes lull us into the land of nod, rather than pop or punk rock? Songs with an upbeat tempo and words can cause the brain to multitask and become overwhelmed. The slow tempo, tranquil melody and soothing rhythm of classical music makes it the perfect antidote to insomnia and helps the body properly prepare for sleep.

Relish in Symphony Central Coast

It’s clear that classical music can have a positive effect not only on the brain, but the whole body too. Its ability to lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety and even reduce pain is enough reason to create a new classical playlist on Spotify. Listening to classical music is something we should relish in every day. However, nothing beats the real thing. 

If you’re a Central Coast local, or you’re just an orchestral fan in general, then you can’t miss the next performance by Symphony Central Coast. Formed in 1999 with support from the Central Coast Conservatorium of Music, Symphony Central Coast is one of the largest regional community orchestras in NSW. Led by multi-talented composer, Dr Steven Stanke, the orchestra is comprised of some of the most dedicated and skilled local musicians in the region.

‘Blues, Reviews and Avenues’ with Bernstein – Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Ravel – Piano Concerto in G, Soloist – Gareth Szakos, will be on Sunday 1 December at the Performing Arts Centre at Central Coast Grammar School. For tickets, go to www.symphonycentralcoast.com.au or call 4365 8497.