The prehistoric origins of music date back to 30,000-60,000 years ago with findings from cave wall paintings and jewelry. The first known musical instrument was a flute from the Paleolithic age approximately 42,000 years ago. From evolutionary history and studies of brain function, we know that speech and music are naturally engrained by the architecture of the cortex. Most remarkably and unlike other animals, music for humans makes an informational message that is unique, engaging the executive brain in multiple ways that is not simply created by chance.
Well before the invention of musical instruments, the first music must have come from the human voice as mothers hum a lullaby to quiet and comfort their unborn child or newborn. Remarkably, hearing starts in the mid fetal stages of human development with sounds being understood and learned well before birth. For example, the mother’s voice and body sounds start the exercising processes of auditory learning and the development of memories. This is why a newborn can pick out the mother’s voice within a day, but dad needs a little time before his child knows who he is. These memories continue to grow in numbers from infancy to adulthood to fill and maintain our brain’s noise, music, and speech and language libraries.
The reason behind the evolution and genesis of music is simple, it is part of how humans exist and react to sound. As the compliment to speech, the development of music evolved to express and enrich how we feel, how we see ourselves, how we connect to our environment, and interact, feel about, and get along with others. Music soothes the limbic system (our flight or fight system) making us feel good, in fact, it elicits brain chemicals called endorphins. As Juan Roederer writes in The Physics and Psychophysics of Music, “Music is pure aesthetics, a manifestation and sublime human comprehension of beauty rather than the mere effect of cold information…” To make this point very clear, “Ludacris” recent said, “When music is really really good, you lose yourself in it.”
What makes music so engaging is the fact that it contains multiple sounds played at different time intervals and pitches that create a cacophony of information reconstructed by the brain in ways that create phantom pleasurable sensations. For example, a single tone has a limited message that is useful for identifying pitch and loudness, whereas, music requires a sophisticated analysis of sound organization. It contains an informational message, elicits a sophisticated neural network response, and creates a transformation in our perception. Music is so powerful that with musical training, changes in the brains anatomical structures are actually seen on fMRIs of musicians.
One of the first writings on the use of music to exercise, teach, and treat the brain therapeutically comes from Alfred Tomatis’ research in 1991 on what he calls the “Mozart Effect.” Although revolutionary at the time, modern music therapy has become useful for a variety of disorders including, dyslexia, ADD, autism, depression, anxiety, stress, and to treat the awareness of tinnitus and auditory hallucinations. Current research on brain plasticity by Michael Merzenich and his colleagues reveal that in older brains …”limbic system nuclei enable and trigger brain change.” “This means that changes to the brain are available at any age, regardless of the history, disorders, or diseases and that our daily activities and special projects can influence our quality of life.” Merzenich also states that “A key factor or ingredient necessary for improving brain function or reversing functional decline is the seriousness of purpose with which you engage in a task. In other words, the task must be important to you, or somehow meaningful or interesting — it must hold your attention.” Music is one of the best at fulfilling all the needs for learning and supporting brain development and function.
In children and adults, the use of music as a learning tool is well established to influence brain power through improved spatial-temporal reasoning. For example, in hearing loss patients, music can help to teach the brain about sound intensity, timing of speech sounds, speech discrimination, and higher order reasoning. For children, the use of music as part of their curriculum stimulates the brain centers for learning multiple messages and high cognitive processing. Learning to play a musical instrument at an early age and continuing this throughout life is training and exercising for the brain that is without an equal. If Mozart only knew how much he has influence modern science and the development of brain power!