When we’re young, it feels as though the world is our oyster when it comes to the musical landscape open for us to explore. However as we age, more and more we find ourselves falling back on the same ‘old faithful’ tunes and artists. As it turns out, there are scientific reasons for why our willingness to explore new or unfamiliar music declines as we get older. But, there are also scientific benefits to reversing this trend and expanding your musical horizons.
What we think of as our music ‘taste’ is actually the patterns our brain has formed around the release of the 'happy' hormone dopamine. The more we listen to a new piece of music, the more our brain is able to form a pattern around it, improving its release of dopamine in the body to hit the right chemical balance that delivers a sensation of pleasure.
The premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is a famous example of this process in practice in the world of classical music. At the ballet’s premiere, audiences rioted upon hearing the music, having never heard anything like it before. However, with each successive performance, audiences grew more and more accustomed to the music, and one year on from the premiere, the work became exceedingly popular. Allegedly, Stravinsky had to enter and exit performances with a police escort because he was being mobbed by adoring fans!
Building brain patterns to enjoy new and different music – just like Stravinsky’s fans did – can have enormous benefits. These pattern-building processes nourish the brain, activating new pathways and may even help build empathy and open-mindedness, resilience and adaptability.
Convinced of the benefits of widening your listening? We know that listening to new music may not feel as natural as it did in early adolescence. To help you find your groove, we recommend giving the music your full attention when hearing it for the first time. Attending a concert is a great way to do this, plus has the added attraction of experiencing the music performed live. Be patient and persistent - the more you listen, the more your brain will begin to adapt to the new styles of music. You could even pick up a new habit along the way, helping your brain develop new patterns!
Our friends at the West Australian Symphony Orchestra have some great opportunities to expand your musical horizons coming up, in a live concert setting at Perth Concert Hall. Our recommendations include Ravel’s Piano Concerto on Friday 11& Saturday 12 August, 7.30pm, or Sibelius’ First Symphony, on Friday 29 & Saturday 30 September, 7.30pm.