Music and the Brain

Music and the Brain


Our favorite tunes always tend to keep us happy and bring about some form of nostalgia. Whether a song reminds you of the first time you fell in love with ____ or how that infamous guitar riff or song from your wedding calls to mind the exact moment you fell in love, music has a stranglehold on our consciousness.

Music has always had a strong affect on our psyche…but how does it really affect our brain?

Let’s start at the beginning: when we play a song our mind begins working.

Different areas of the brain are stimulated simultaneously:

– Motor Cortex: Involved in playing an instrument and movement

– Prefrontal Cortex: Controls behavior/expressions/decision making

– Nucleus Accumbens & Amygdala: regulate our emotional response to music

– Cerebellum: Involved in playing an instrument and movement as well as emotional reactions

– Visual Cortex: reading music or looking at your own dance moves

– Hippocampus: Involved in music memories, experiences and context

– Auditory Cortex: Listens to sounds; perceives and analyzes tones

– Sensory Cortex: Control tactile feedback while playing an instrument and dancing


For a non-scientific-jargon-y explanation, what are some ways that music can affect people in our day to day lives?

  1. Music can affect how we interpret other people’s facial expressions:

The brain responds differently to happy or sad music, even if it is for just a brief moment. A study done revealed that people are more likely to interpret a neutral expression as happy or sad depending on what they were listening to…maybe there is a real correlation between the ‘free-love’ era and the music that accompanied it.

2. Music (at the right level) can fuel our creativity:

Music that is played at a more moderate volume can really help stimulate our creative muscles. Another trick to help our creativity flow is ambient noise. How does it work? Well, the low-playing music or ambient noise garners some of our attention, which increases processing difficulty in our brains. The brain is a master problem-solver, so since the noise distracts our standard processing functions we kick on an abstract level of processing information which ultimately leads to creative problem-solving.

If necessity is the father of creation, distraction may be a distant uncle.

       3. Learning to play an instrument deeply changes our motor skills, and reasoning:

It’s well-established that learning an instrument can be wholly beneficial to our quality of life, and the affect on the brain is significant. Numerous studies have shown a positive correlation between music lessons and IQ of primary school-aged children. Learning to play music requires focus and attentiveness which can improve the brains ability to process information.

No wonder the College Board embraces the slogan “music makes you smarter”.


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