A look into the impact of music on the students of UAHS.


Music is central to human expression cross-culturally, and, based on its ubiquity, it is argued that it has played an important role during our evolutionary history as a species. 

Music is a highly emotionally charged sensory stimulant that has been shown to have a large impact on teenagers due to its effect on their limbic systems and prefrontal cortexes. Teenagers are most susceptible to changes in neurological pathways due to the changes in brain chemistry during puberty; during that time adolescent prefrontal cortexes and limbic systems are in the midst of their development. This causes teenagers to be easily affected by their surroundings.

“It’s been found that music is like a stimulant for the brain, and in some cases to help people work better and be more productive,” senior Taylor Speas said. “I think it just engages a different part of the brain than normal things would do. Music strengthens the same part of the brain that math or reading might.”

Speas is currently completing his Capstone project on how music education benefits students academically and socially.

“For my Capstone I was doing more of a research-based thing, so I found a bunch of sources for my first project,” he said. “And then for my second project I did a little study between orchestra, band and choir students, testing their memories and seeing if there was one program that had an increased memory over the other.”

Researchers have concluded that musical reactivity is causally related to basic social motivations. The reactiveness to music plays a role in successful group living. This means that the music we share can help us find identity in groups and affiliate with them. Throughout his research, Speas recognized the importance music held in his life, specifically within his relationships with his peers. 

“Having [music] as a shared common value definitely helped me form a lot of friendships and relationships that I’ve had throughout high school,” he said. 

Music’s ability to cultivate communities and relationships that are vital to adolescent development is a unique aspect of it that can be reflected across all demographics.

“Music is a key part in my relationships with others. My friends and I send songs to each other all the time and have playlists for one another,” junior Sara Davy said. “One of my friends and I try to send a song each day that describes the type of day it is.”

It has been suggested that a key function of music during its development and spread amongst human populations was its capacity to create and strengthen social bonds amongst interacting group members. 

“I think [music has] given me a really good sense for working as a group because in orchestra… it’s not all about you. You have to operate together and know how to work with other people,” Speas said. “And I think having those skill sets really helps outside of the orchestra room — just in life in general, knowing how to cooperate and make compromises and be able to work together as a team with other people.”

Neurologist Walter J. Freeman conducted a study which determined that music has evolved biologically and culturally to serve as a technology of social bonding. He came to this conclusion based on findings of anthropologists and psychiatrists that show how the rhythmic behavioral activities that are induced by music can lead to altered states of consciousness, which constructs the sense of trust and predictability in each member of the community on which social interactions are based.

“I think music education in schools and stuff has a good impact on people socially: it builds a lot of friendships and creates environments, like through the musical or marching band,” Speas said. “There’s a lot of friendships that are made and it really brings people closer together and it has a lot of benefits beyond the academic ones.”

Music has many other benefits as well, especially for musicians or those closely involved in the creation of music. 

“You’ve got to be a certain type of person to be a musician, and that person should be focused. I don’t think it has much to do with intelligence at all; I think it really has to do with what people call heart, I think sometimes we now refer to it as grit,” orchestra director and UAHS Music Department Chair Ed Zunic said. “But I’ve just always thought of it as focus and a dedication to bettering the art. And there’s a lot of high school people in this building that have that passion.”

Additionally, it allows students to develop important skills, which can then be translated to other aspects of their lives. 

“You can’t do music half-way you know? When you’re a musician, especially an instrumentalist, where you’re controlling a tool, your focus has to be on that tool and everything that has to do with that instrument,” Zunic said. “I know that musicians tend to hold themselves to high standards, because they’ve already achieved incredibly high standards in their musical careers. And I think that carries over to other aspects of their lives and allows them to be the best versions of themselves that they can be.” 

Music activates both the left and right brain at the same time, and the activation of both hemispheres can maximize learning and improve memory. This, paired with musicians’ willingness to achieve high standards and dedication, allows musicians to thrive in other aspects of their lives as well. 

“It’s been shown that people who are engaged in musical activities like orchestra, band or choir in schools generally do better academically than those who are not,” Speas said.

Music is one of the most universal forms of expression and communication, and has existed for about 35,000 years, though its exact origins remain unknown. Archaeologists discovered bird-bone and ivory flutes in the Hohle Fels and Vogelherd caves in southern Germany that are between 20,000 and 40,000 years old. 

The design of the flutes and studies of other artifacts from the site suggest that music was an integral part of human life far earlier than first thought. Furthermore, by looking at the behavior of some existing tribal populations and the prominent role of music within said communities, it’s likely that this was true for ancestral tribes as well.

A recently published study suggests that human brains don’t only recognize music, but that evolution has actually produced a neural circuit dedicated to processing music.

Researchers at MIT discovered six distinct neural clusters in the auditory cortex of the human brain that were responsive to sound. Four of these responded to standard acoustic features, such as pitch and modulation, and one responded specifically to speech. The sixth center, located just outside the primary auditory cortex, responded exclusively to music. Due to its location outside of the primary auditory cortex, researchers think the music circuit has an intermediary purpose: to interpret raw sound as music and pass that information along to other neural systems in the brain. 

This neurological development reflects just how integral music is for humans. 

“Every second that I can, I listen to music. It’s something that I find comfort in, and [it is] a coping mechanism,” Davy said. 

Music has an immense impact on people’s brains, especially for adolescents. For example, one’s sense of agency (the feeling of control over actions and their consequences) is often challenged in youth by external demands, and music has been argued to reinstate feelings of self-agency within adolescents.

“Music has affected my relationships with others, the way I see the world, the way I act, the way I dress, how I present myself,” Davy said. “[It] has helped change my identity and… has made me a better person, I believe.”

Every person interprets music differently, but music has a place in every person’s life. Biologically, humans are wired to listen to and enjoy music, as they have done for thousands of years, and will continue to do so for thousands of years to come.

“I think that proximity to music just makes people happier,” Zunic said. “It makes them appreciate life; it makes them better people.”