For almost a decade now we have understood that music listening activates the reward network in the brain. The reward network sends impulses around our brain that make us feel “rewarded” which are those same feelings when we are recognised for something good that we have done. Think back, can you remember a time when you were recognised for a specific skill you have, for years of service to a role or for something you had achieved which was hard. That is the feeling that the reward network is creating inside you.
The harder working foot soldier in the reward network is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain and body that gets the reward party started. It sends the messages through your body as this recognition of achievement is occurring, and very soon after that, it is the process that also transports the adrenaline that we also feel. Hearing your heartbeat very loudly inside your head is just one reaction to that adrenaline rush activated by the reward network.
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Another reaction from the reward network is motivation. When we feel like we have achieved success with something difficult we get a rush of dopamine and adrenaline that motivates us to keep on trying.
Music learning is a perfect vehicle to activate our reward network because it gets activated regularly, even daily, when we try and try again during our practice and when we finally get that note or that run of notes we have been working so hard on.
This study also shows that listening to music you identify as rewarding can then improve your ability to recollect information. For children music has been used as a tool to enhance memory retrieval and that each child could develop their own “Music-Memory playlist” to help with some types of information recollection.
Imagine a classroom filled with musically fuelled memory enhancement!