The powerful effect of music on human beings

Graphic by Kelsey Mason

Esteemed musician Billy Joel once called music “an explosive expression of humanity”, and that couldn’t be any more true. As human beings, we gravitate toward it because it often puts into words complex feelings or experiences we are trying to process or express. 

Kim Ganong, musician and adjunct professor in the music department at Boise State discussed the positive influence performing music on her oboe has had on her life, mentally and physically.

“I do think a lot of people assume that music is a non-physical hobby,” Ganong said. “I know tons of musicians who train and do specific wrist exercises, especially string players like violinists. A lot of times, we’ll get into things like running or like I do CrossFit… But even if you do it just on its own, actually playing an instrument is a physical activity.”

Ganong has participated in many incredible performances over the course of her career, including playing with Grammy award winner Gloria Stefan, and discussed the powerful unity she’s felt at shows. 

“Looking out over that big of a crowd is really intimidating,” Ganong said. “But then to feel that unity of everyone experiencing the same thing, it really doesn’t matter what language you speak.”

Ganong discussed the physical connection many audience members feel to the music and to each other during a show.  

“A lot of pop music today, especially EDM and hip hop, is between 100 to 140 beats a minute, which is heartbeat tempo and they’ve even discovered that people will sync up their breathing,” Ganong said. “People’s heart rates will sync up at concerts, they’ve put trackers on people to see what happens. Which means music clearly does something to us physically.”

Ganong noted the importance of lyrics in establishing a connection amongst fans and artists alike. 

“People feel not alone,” Ganong said. “If you find a song that really you relate to, because either you’ve experienced the same thing, or they’re singing about some emotion that you’re feeling in the moment…Especially if you’re in a large group of people who are having that same reaction to it. You sort of are like, huh, like all of these people get it?” 

Not only does music help individuals cope emotionally, it also promotes memory and learning ability. Ganong discussed a three-year study she was a part of during her time studying for her doctorate at the University of Miami, which found that students who were a part of the Miami Music Project, “Showed greater enhancements over time in Character, Competence and Caring when compared to a group of youth who did not participate in music education.”

“They did a survey a couple times a year I think, and they would come observe to see if playing and learning a musical instrument and playing music in a group improved various markers like behavior, social skills, memory, grades,” Ganong said. “Definitively it was like playing a musical instrument improves literally everything across the board and they were shocked and it was hilarious because all of the music teachers were all like duh because we’ve all experienced it.”

A study done by Northwestern University found that “Regions of the brain that are involved in musical memory and processing (e.g., the cerebellum) are not as affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia until much later in the disease course.” This allows individuals to connect with their loved ones at a time when this can be increasingly difficult.

“My grandma… She passed away from Alzheimer’s a few years ago,” Ganong said. “She’s from a farm family in Indiana, and so a lot of the old-time country music like The Carter Family, old school Grand Ole Opry type stuff, if you would play any of that stuff for her, even up to the end where she literally wouldn’t talk, she would be able to sing it.”

Luke Pearson, a Boise State freshman majoring in film discussed the ways music has positively impacted his life. Pearson plays drums in the local band Madcap Laughs.

Pearson discussed the incredible connection he feels to his fellow bandmates.

“It’s crazy how much you’ll be in sync with people. There might be an off day and you might be like beefing with the person and you’ll literally sync up,” Pearson said. “It’ll be the most insane experience you’ll ever have because it’s like ‘how did we even just do that’?”

Regardless of being a part of a band, Pearson felt that music has provided him with friendships he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“Without music in general, I would have never made any of the friends I have,” Pearson said. “Boise is awesome because the scene is pretty small but if you show up and just talk to people… you’ll know everybody in the scene.”

If you’re looking for a way into the music scene, take a class at Boise State, attend a local show or get the word out if you’re looking to jam. Living in a place like Boise, musical opportunities are in abundance — you just have to know where to look. 

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