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The Difference Between Noise and Music and How They Affect Our Brains

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

ScienceMade Influence Blog

By Steven Sun

Have you ever wondered why humans have a preference for music over other noises? There’s a fine line between the two, but let’s start with the similarities: both noises and music travel through various materials in the form of waves, namely air. The outer and inner ear serves to convert these waves into signals our brains are able to register as sound. Humans are able to hear sounds between the frequencies of 63 to 23,000 Hz a higher frequency is correlated to a higher “pitch” but the ability to distinguish sounds varies significantly between species and generally decays as we age.

Noise is a combination of varying frequencies of sound waves that don’t follow any particular pattern. Examples of noise in our world are traffic, background conversations, and the humming of your A/C. Most chaotic noises have severe negative impacts on our minds, especially when we’re stressed. Background noise makes it hard to focus on even simple tasks, and the inability to complete them results in further anxiety or frustration. The part of the brain that assists in perceiving emotions is sensitive to stressful noises and sends signals to another brain region which releases a familiar hormone called adrenaline. Adrenaline prepares our body for “fight or flight,” inducing rapid heart beating, diverted blood flow to the muscles, and increased blood pressure. Prolonged exposure to noise wears down our bodies and may cause serious physical impairments such as hearing loss, ringing in the ear, high blood pressure, and an array of potentially deadly heart diseases.  

However, this doesn’t mean that all noises are harmful to us. You may be familiar with white noise, but how about pink and Brownian noises (yes, noises can have colors)? These are the most common types of beneficial noise. They are generated from a wide range of frequencies that humans can hear, sometimes with varying intensities or “volumes.” White noise has a constant intensity and is composed of all audible frequencies. Fans and air conditioning are examples of white noise and are known for helping people who have trouble sleeping. Pink and Brownian noises typically have higher intensities in lower frequencies, such as rustling leaves or a rumbling waterfall, and they create a sense of relaxation. It's counterintuitive, these types of beneficial noise make it easier to concentrate since they reduce the jump in intensity between the noise and other abrupt sounds in your environment.

Music is a type of art which has the ability to convey emotion and storytelling,  influencing many people and cultures around the world. What would our world be without the comprehendible effects of music? Many of us listen to music when we feel happy, lonely, or downright bored. That’s because music consists of orderly patterns of sounds that are usually described as pleasing. Instruments, singing, and even nature can be forms of music.

The contrast between noise and music can be seen in how the frequencies of sound produced by music line up with each other at regular intervals, creating harmony and a flowing feeling. The brain synchronizes with this fluency due to the steady rhythms, which give us the sense of pleasure. Playing music is another method of releasing emotions and is a powerful tool for reducing anxiety. Unlike noise, music activates the same parts of the brain that regulate our “reward systemthe same system that allows us to enjoy eating delicious foods like chocolate and feel good after regular exercise in sleep releasing dopamine, a chemical that plays a large role in pleasure. 

Now that you have learned the similarities and differences between noise and music, hopefully you will consider incorporating some new relaxation and concentration techniques to help you along in your day-to-day lives.


The image is in the public domain.

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