How Does Music Affect the Brain? 16 Key Benefits of Listening to Music

how does music affect the brain

Music can soothe a broken heart.

It can motivate you to work harder and longer when working out.

It can help you sleep at night, dance until morning, or even improve your focus and concentration.

Humanity and music have always been intertwined.

It has been found in every culture ever known. Even tribal cultures, completely isolated from the rest of humanity, have forms of music to call their own.

In The Origins of Music, evidence is offered to suggest that the first notes of music were first played over 55,000 years ago.

Our exposure to music, both personally and as humans, creates a beautiful relationship with our brains.

Music can create specific emotions. It can help us cope with difficult emotions. It inspires us, and it comforts us.

Because of the relationship between music and the human brain, there are some key benefits which can be obtained when we listen to it.

Here are just a few examples to look at how music affects the brain.

[Click here and listen to music for focus, relaxation and joy]


#1. Memory Improvement

improve memoryMusic has a unique ability to improve the memory mechanisms of the brain.

It helps to bring back memories, as far back as childhood, to make them feel relevant once again.

This benefit engages whenever you hear a specific piece of music that is related to a memory stored in your brain.

It might have been something you heard on the radio, a TV show, or a song your parents used to sing.

Once the song is heard, the memory of that moment comes back in vivid detail.

The power of music is strong enough that it cuts through dementia and health issues like Alzheimer’s disease.

In the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, Nicholas Simmons-Stern makes this observation.

“I’ve heard tales of patients who are able to sing songs they learned decades ago or use music to remember times of their lives that were otherwise lost. Beautiful anecdotes about parents or grandparents that were once avid musicians, who, despite an inability to dress themselves… are still able to play songs on the piano or violin with ease.”

This effect creates the potential to treat individuals suffering from amnesia, traumatic brain injuries, and health issues like Alzheimer’s disease through music.


#2. Improved Focus

improve focus musicHave you ever noticed what happens when your favorite song comes on your playlist?

A sort of tunnel vision happens where you focus on the elements of the song and how they make you feel.

This improved focus occurs because music is one of the few things in this world that stimulates the entire brain instead of just a portion of it.

This focus can be applied in many different ways.

Some people use music to help them clear their minds when meditating.

Others use music while studying or working so they are able to retain more of the information that they are attempting to absorb.

It can be used during a long session of running on a treadmill because it takes the mind’s focus off of fatigue and toward whatever the end goal happens to be.

One of the most unique focus points that music is able to create is a focus on sleep.

For those who struggle to clear their minds because of racing thoughts or to-do lists at night, music will eliminate those distractions effectively and cause the mind to focus on the task at hand instead.


#3. Enhanced Creativity

music inspires creativityAmbient music helps to improve and increase personal creativity.

Ravi Mehta, Professor of Business Administration at the University of Illinois, notes that ambient noise at 70 decibels will enhance an individual’s performance on specific creative tasks.

Mehta also notes in the study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, that enhanced creativity through music increases the chances that a customer will purchase an innovative product.

It is important to keep ambient music at the 70-decibel level. Researchers discovered that increasing the volume of the music would also increase personal distraction levels.

The conclusion is this: instead of working in a quiet room, try working in a room with music in the background.

The presence of music generates creative ideas by activating the parts of the brain that think in abstract ways.


#4. Improved IQ

music iqStudies have revealed that children who regularly listened to music, or played musical instruments regularly, were able to develop a much higher verbal IQ than other children of the same age who did not have exposure to music.

In just 20 days of music exposure, through classroom instruction, Dr. Sylvain Moreno found that 90% of children exposed to music experienced physical changes in their brain that allowed for a rapid transfer of cognitive information.

In the study conducted by York University, children between the ages of 4-6 participated in a computer-based training program with animated projections and colorful cartoons.

One group was exposed to music during the program, while the other was not.

Each group received two 1-hour sessions in a classroom setting over 4 weeks.

The children exposed to music tested higher on verbal IQ tests involving word recall, information analyzation, and language-based reasoning.


#5. Coping Mechanisms

music alters visual perceptionMusic shapes the way we perceive the world around us.

It shifts the state of consciousness of an individual in numerous ways.

Since 1992, numerous studies have shown that music makes time seem to have an increased speed when played in environments where waiting is required.

Grocery store checkout lines and waiting rooms both employ music because it changes a person’s judgment of time.

Music even creates a separate sensation of time based on its tempo and cadence.

Fast melodies make time seem to speed up. Slow melodies make time seem to slow down.

It can even affect how people experience experimental time, which is the time it takes to engage in states of tension and resolution.


#6. Pain Control

music helps reduce pain Music changes how we perceive physical stimuli when experiencing difficult situations.

It is powerful enough to control the intensity of pain being experienced when an injury occurs.

Music controls pain at all levels of suffering.

Even patients who are receiving end-of-life hospice care report feeling less pain when there is music playing in their environment.

Sara Harris, who is a Board-Certified Music Therapist for Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care, notes that when music plays, incredible moments happen.

“Music bridges a gap between their reality and our reality, and for families who may have not seen their loved ones speak or sing anything the past few years, it’s just absolutely priceless.”


Being involved in the creation of music is just as beneficial in controlling pain as listening to music.

In a total of 11 studies, evidence suggests that music composition offers a positive impact on physical comfort, energy, fatigue, and anxiety.


#7. Personality Development

music personal developmentAnother interesting way in which music affects our brains is the fact that the musical choices we make work to shape our individual personalities.

Music literally helps each of us to define the person we one day become.

In a number of studies and tests examining music and youth development, the results all point to the fact that certain musical preferences do indeed correspond to certain character traits in many individuals.

Opera fans, for example, were generally found to be gentle, creative, and have high levels of self-esteem.

Country music fans were found to be outgoing and very hardworking.

Reggae fans were found to be far more laid back and much more at ease with themselves and the world around them.

Based on our preferences for music, social preferences and stigmas develop between fans of different music genres.

This further helps to shape how each person sees and interacts with the world around them.


#8. Improved Productivity

music for productivityAnother great way in which music is able to influence us and affect our bodies, and one which we touched upon previously, is the fact that music can help to increase and improve productivity in certain circumstances and tasks.

Music and brain research conducted over the years has found that music stimulates human brain receptors, which communicate with other parts of the body, and can help to improve productivity in a number of different ways.

Studies have also found that listening to your favorite music will help stimulate adrenaline secretion, and other hormones, which will increase your mental focus, as well as physical energy levels too.

Let’s look at working out in the gym as an example. When we hear our favorite song, played at a high volume, our brains will recognize this, and stimulate the adrenal glands.

Once the adrenal glands become stimulated, they secrete adrenalin which increases heart rate, it improves mental clarity, and it provides a natural stimulant effect which can make us much more productive.

If you’re feeling tired and lethargic whilst working out, you need a natural pick me up and energy boost to increase your productivity.

A sudden increase in adrenalin, and other hormones as well for that matter, will do just that so you have more energy and more strength, and can just generally get more done as a result.

The same goes for housework.


#9. Visual Attention

music improves attentionCertain types of music improve a person’s visual attention levels.

In a small study involving 19 patients, the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan discovered that “pleasant” music could improve visual attention in patients with unilateral neglect.

After experiencing a stroke in the right hemisphere of the brain, participants in the study were given three music options: pleasant, unpleasant, and white noise within 7 days of their medical event.

The definitions of pleasant and unpleasant music were left to the individual participants to decide.

Positive moods were more common after listening to pleasant music when compared to the other two sound options.

At the same time, these patients all showed improvement on eye movement and task completion during the times when they listened to pleasant music.


#10. Hormone Balance

hormones released when listening to musicWhen we listen to sad music, music we dislike, or music which brings back painful memories for example, stress hormones like cortisol are released by the body.

As the cortisol is released, higher levels of anxiety begin to appear.

If hormone levels become unbalanced to a great extent, then severe stress events may occur.

When we listen to music which we enjoy, then dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins are released.

This combination makes us feel happy, confident, and relaxed.

These are the same hormones which are released when we exercise, have fun, or consume foods which we enjoy eating.

If you love to eat chocolate, your body responds in the same way as if you love to listen to Nirvana.


#11. Anxiety Elimination

music for anxiety attacks Listening to your favorite songs can be just as beneficial as a 30-minute massage can be at relieving worry and anxiety.

This occurs because blood flow becomes more efficient and the mind clears itself of all the “what if” scenarios that it has been considering.

More oxygen + fewer thoughts = one happy individual.

Want to double the impact that music can provide?

Schedule a 30-minute massage and bring a playlist of your best songs.

This is particularly useful for individuals who are facing a difficult medical diagnosis.

A late stage cancer, a debilitating disease, or other health issues can create enormous levels of anxiety and stress on an individual.

By focusing on the music instead of the present problems, the anxiety decreases, while the quality of a person’s life improves.


#12. Motor Skill and Reasoning Improvement

music for memory improvementWhen motions are paired with songs, it allows children to improve the coordination of their fine motor skills.

Did you make finger motions while singing the Itsy-Bitsy Spider while growing up?

Did you count all the monkeys that were jumping on the bed with your fingers?

These actions helped to practice control of the hand and fingers.

Dancing provides the same benefit.

Children who learn songs by dancing experience higher levels of arm and leg control.

It also teaches children how to define their own personal boundaries for comfort.

Learning how to play a musical instrument creates improvements in these skills as well.


#13. Social Benefits

music connects culturesMusic is often used at social events, parties, weddings, and concerts.

It provides the foundation for social activities which help to bring people together and relate with one another.

By sharing the same interests and tastes in music, people immediately have things in common.

It is not uncommon for relationships to be formed based upon musical preferences and tastes.

On first dates, for example, where small talk can be awkward, by talking about your tastes in music, your favorite bands or singers, you will discover there is something you have in common with the other person.

This allows a conversation to progress forward.

You begin to get to know one another on a deeper level because of the common ground you found in music.

Choirs and singing groups are another great example of how music brings people together.

When singing as part of a group, and synchronizing with each other, feelings of affiliation within these groups will be increased, and individuals may feel closer to one another than before.


#14. Heart Disease Treatment

how does music affect your heart rate Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the entire world.

Doing all that we can to help protect against it should be at the top of our list of priorities.

Common side effects associated with heart disease include stress and anxiety.

Studies have revealed that by listening to various forms of music, anxiety, stress, and tension levels in patients being treated for coronary heart disease dropped quite dramatically.

Blood pressure levels, which also play a key role in coronary health, were also reduced greatly.


#15. Improved Emotional IQ

how does music affect your intelligenceAnother interesting benefit that music has on our brains is that it helps us to read other people effectively.

By listening to what is described as ‘happy’ and ‘uplifting’ music in regular intervals, people have been found to be able to better identify facial expressions and body language associated with feelings of happiness and other similar emotions.

When doing the same with sad and depressing pieces of music, again, the same results were achieved, except this time with negative expressions and body language. 

Children with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum experience some of the largest gains in emotional IQ improvement through the use of music therapy.

This occurs because music stimulates both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously.

Using this stimulation, specific communicative behaviors can be taught.

Interactions with other people are encouraged.

Over time, this process allows children to overcome some of the issues or behaviors that may work to hold them back.


#16. Immune System Strength

music therapy and the immune system The immune system is your body’s natural defense mechanism against illness and disease.

If your immune system is strong, then you have a lower risk of experiencing ill health.

There are numerous ways to support a strong immune system.

You might take vitamins or specific supplements. You choose to eat certain foods.

Are you listening to your favorite music regularly too?

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, along with support from Sussex University, discovered simultaneously that listening to uplifting music improves antibody levels within the body.

In the study, researchers tested 300 people. They asked participants to listen to either dance music or a random collection of tones.

The participants listening to dance music experienced lower levels of cortisol release compared to those listening to random tones.

After 50 minutes of listening to the dance music, participants had higher levels of Immunoglobin A compared to the other group, which is the first line of defense against illness or disease.


What Are the Best Ways to Use Music Every Day?

One of the most effective methods of using music on a daily basis is brainwave entrainment.

Programs designed around the science of brainwave entrainment help the brain to “tune” itself to specific results which you’d like to achieve.

Through the stimulation of music, the brain becomes receptive to the changes being encouraged by specifically-tuned audio frequencies.

The neurons within the brain begin firing in the same patterns as the music being played, while the brain works to move toward specific brainwaves based on the sounds being heard.

As you continue to listen, the brain syncs itself to the patterns, helping you become more efficient at the task or activity you wish to complete.

From a better focus to better sleep, brainwave entrainment offers numerous ways to make life better.

Music has always been part of the human experience. Without it, our lives would be very different.

When you listen to music, these are the key benefits you should expect to see in your life.

The next time you listen to your favorite music or you play an instrument, see if you can experience these benefits personally.



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I am interested in psychology and philosophy. I am also an enthusiast of meditation and personal development. Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you'll find something interesting here.

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7 Responses to How Does Music Affect the Brain? 16 Key Benefits of Listening to Music

  1. Marc Cantave September 25, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

    Yes Music definitely brings back memories (some bad but mostly good ones). Usually I lose focus when listening to music but that’s just me lol. This was a great post I enjoyed and I love the effects that music has over us. I am a big fan of music and I always believed that it could do great things. Good work!

  2. Samantha September 25, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

    I had no idea that music affected the brain in so many different ways! How interesting that it’s more beneficial than silence in helping stroke victims improve their visual attention.

    I usually work in silence, but now that I know that music can improve productivity, maybe I will start listening to something in the background. Maybe classical, since music with lyrics tends to distract me when I’m writing.

    Thanks for such an informative post! I’m going to be keeping my ears open for good music to help with my meditation and my daily life in general.

  3. Debra November 23, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

    This is beyond interesting. One of the things I have found most interesting about music is how certain songs can bring back memories – but not only memories – entire experiences. Songs that remind me of my teenage years seem to be the most “moving” for me – whenever a song from that time period of my life comes on, I remember my best friend Lanay, sleeping over at her house most weekend – all the fun stuff we did, places we went, boys we liked! I can even remember what things looked like, what we were wearing – it’s quite amazing how music can affect the brain in so many ways!

    • Luke November 23, 2015 at 7:09 pm #

      You’re absolutely right, Debra. I have the same. There are songs which remind me of certain events from the past whenever I hear them.

  4. Matthew February 9, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    WOW that was absolutely brilliant. Truly enjoyed that article, haven’t seen anything like it before, i knew music had an impact but i did not know it had an impact to this extent. I love how you have included a video at the bottom.
    This was a fantastic article and please keep writing more like this.
    Keep up the awesome work!!!

  5. John Rico June 23, 2016 at 1:03 am #

    This is an important article so that people can know what are the affects of music on our brain. I don’t know any of these affects. I only know is that when you hear classical music while studying it can improve your studying. What kinds of music should people listen to? Does music affect the emotion of people for example if they listen to sad song i makes people sad?

  6. Rob S. June 19, 2017 at 1:34 am #

    I love music and always have. It relaxes me. I feel more alive and aware of everything because of it. It’s interesting that you mention music as a pain killer. I believe that can be true. It amazes me how it affects my brain and my thinking. I feel like I have a better head on my shoulders when my music is playing. I wasn’t aware that music was responsible for helping our immune systems and hearts too. Love your information! It’s music to my ears!

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