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Music to Your Brain?

Music to Your Brain?

Almost everyone loves music of some kind. Maybe you enjoy classical, jazz, blues, country, “the oldies,” or good ol’ rock & roll. You might even sing in the shower or turn music on to unwind, to dance to or even to fuel your work.

There’s a lot to be said about music, too. In fact, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” Even the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, who isn’t known for much positivism, stated, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Early-American soldier and political leader John A. Logan, however, may have been well ahead of his time, however, when he said, “Music’s the medicine of the mind.”

Why? Because science is increasingly pointing to the benefits of music on the brain. For example, in her documentary The Power of Music, Elena Mannes highlights the fact that scientists have discovered that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function, which is why Mannes believes in music’s power to change the brain and to directly affect how the brain works. She explains, “For a stroke patient who has lost verbal function—those verbal functions may be stimulated by music.” Likewise, since so many memories are associated with music, it could also prove helpful to Alzheimer’s patients.

Incidentally, Mannes comes from a long line of music pioneers and leaders. Her grandparents founded the Mannes College of Music in New York City, while her great uncle, Walter Damrosch, conducted the Metropolitan Opera and was the impetus behind the building of Carnegie Hall.

Interestingly, one of the greatest effects of music on the brain is in the area of memory. In one study, students of foreign languages were able to learn hundreds of vocabulary words in one day while listening to Baroque classical music—and had an impressive 92 percent retention rate! The tempo of the music seems to be conducive to people remembering the most, too. When tested on what was learned, recall was much better when music was played at the same speed as when the people learned the information—not when the music tempo was varied.

Additionally, studies indicate that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s sufferers also benefit from listening to music. Music triggers specific memories to be recalled that were otherwise forgotten, and it can also can improve motor skills while walking for some patients.

Along these same lines, a study published in journal NeuroImage indicated wide networks in the brain, including areas responsible for motor actions, emotions and creativity. This study was groundbreaking in that it revealed a new method allowing scientists to study how the brain processes various aspects of music, including rhythm, tonality and timbre or sound color using real music, not artificially constructed music-like sounds. 

Professor Petri Toivianen from the University of Jyväskylä, who was involved with this study, says, “Our results show for the first time how different musical features activate emotional, motor and creative areas of the brain. We believe that our method provides more reliable knowledge about music processing in the brain than the more conventional methods.”

Not all music is healthy music to the brain, however. Music can also have some not-so-positive results. Some types of “aggressive” music such as heavy rock or rap can cause the brain to lose symmetry between its right and left hemispheres, resulting in lack of concentration, learning complications and behavioral disruptions in children, or in diminished work capabilities in adults. Unfortunately, it’s also can result in feelings of anger or hostility.

But for the right kinds of music, the results are way different.

So, go ahead and treat your ears—and your brain—to the benefits of music.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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