The Brain on Music

eweber   November 14, 2008   41 Comments


Have you ever used music at work to jack up productivity or change your mood? One popular listening task’s a  huge part of  college and secondary students’ learning when they simply use music to improve focus.

Survey your  music IQ as part of your multiple intelligences, and see why its cadence enhance  leading and learning more than most people realize. How so?

Interestingly some rhythms. such as baroque, induce enzymes in the brain and add amazing well being and focus.  Other tunes leave you punchy … and unable to focus. Has it happened to you?

Music holds an immensely powerful influence over the brain and yet few workplaces  benefit from addictive musical sounds. Listen to inspirational music and calm your thinking to see how it works. Or ratchet up brainpower with Makeba’s, Pata Pata. Then read on to discover what research could offer your day.

Across genres, you’ll find that music puts you in touch with your inner beliefs and desires and the cadence can create an amazing mental landscape for you to read, relax or reflect on your day.

Or it can make you moody, edgy and anxious. How so? Music shifts your brain waves that control how neurons talk to one another. Watch the visible shift happen for people in this video.

Start with your favorite tunes from Psychologist Don Campbell’s list here and tell us how music alters your mental states. In his book The Mozart Effect, Campbell shows the following results for listeners:

Gregorian chant creates quiet in our minds and can reduce stress.

Slower Baroque music, such as Bach, Handel, Vivaldi or Corelli, can create mentally stimulating environments for creativity and new innovations.

Classical music, such as Haydn and Mozart, often improves concentration and memory when played in the background.

Romantic music, such as Schubert, Schumann, Tchaikovsky , Chopin and Liszt, enhances our senses and increases a sense of sympathy and love.

Impressionist music, such as Debussy, Faure and Ravel, can unlock dreamlike images that put us in touch with our unconscious thoughts and belief systems.

Jazz, blues, soul or calypso music can uplift and inspire us, releasing deep joy or even deep sadness, conveying wit and affirming our common humanity.

Salsa, rhumba, merengue and any form of South American music sets our hearts racing, gets us moving, both relaxing us and awakening us at the same time.

Big band, Top 40 and country music engage our emotions and comfort us.

Rock music, from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones, stirs passion and activity, and so can release daily tensions. Rock can also mask pain and cover up unpleasant noises. It also has the power to create dissonance, stress or physical pain if we are not in the mood for energizing.

Ambient or New Age music such as Stephen Halpern and Brian Eno has no dominant rhythm, so it elongates the sense of space and time, inducing a state of relaxed alertness.

Heavy metal and hip-hop music excites our nervous system, and sometimes leads us into acting out dynamic behavior and self-expression.

Religious and sacred music such as hymns and gospel moves us to feel grounded in the moment, and leads to deep peace and spiritual awareness. Sacred music often helps us to transcend pain.

Consider what tomorrow could bring at work if you swing a bar or two of mental and musical acumen into a project today. It’s also fun to match the music with the moment and watch what you learn

Not surprisingly, research also suggests that music may recruit neural mechanisms similar to those previously associated with pleasant or unpleasant emotional states. Or it’s no wonder that top workplaces look for music to rock productivity!

I’m listening to Benjamin Britton at the moment …. You?

41 thoughts on “The Brain on Music

  1. mike logan

    Hi Doctor,

    What a beautiful site. Love the ideas and can’t wait to read more. I have listened to Carlos Nikai at my office daily for almost four years now. It was playing in the delivery room when my daughter made her entrance, and I can tell by my physiology which tune was playing when my wife was ready for the delivery to begin. And also, I listen to Celtic music to experience that bittersweet feeling that the Irish seem so skilled at evoking. Mike Logan

    mike logans last blog post..Nov 14, Gerontology

  2. eweber Post author

    Mike your kind words, beam through with many serotonin splashes all around! Thanks. I am thrilled to see your site and to see how many similar (yet different) kinds of things we do! Many thanks for coming by and nudging this conversation in some cool directions! I’ve added your site to the Blogroll

  3. rummuser

    I am moody. Sometimes I like either of the two Indian classical stream music and on other times, the other. I also go off to old Indian film songs which was very much part of my growing up process. Sometimes, I listen to Western love songs too!

    No matter what type, I simply must have music in the background, in my life. As much and as often as possible.

    rummusers last blog post..Movie Scenes That Have Stayed With Me.

  4. Fred Campos


    very interesting. You know I don’t listen to anything, except perhaps a dramatized version of the Bible on the way to work. Most of the time I sit in silence at home, at my desk or in the car. (I have not a television either.)

    BUT I read everything! Anyway, how are brain waves effected by silence? It’s not really silence I hear my thoughts as chatter throughout the day.

    Good stuff. My take away, from someone who wants to build a better brain, is to find some MUSIC and mix it up a bit and see how that effects work, writing, and studies.

    ttyl! Fred

    Fred Camposs last blog post..11/01/08: Friendship Begins; Good Speaking Sells

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  6. eweber Post author

    Thanks for stopping by and especially for your kind words. It’s also a reminder to me to play some of the great music out there as I prepare dinner for guests!! Have unexpected melodies move your own day forward!

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  8. dongilmore

    Reminds me of good book that came out a few years ago: “This is Your Brain on Music” by Daniel Levitin. Very stimulating.

    Also reminds me of a time 20 years ago when I listened obsessively to the ECM edition of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” while programming. Literally every day, several hours a day, for several months, with earphones and the sound turned up loud, I programmed tens of thousands of lines of C code that ended up exceeding all expectations. However, at this point in my life, I think it would make me nauseous to hear this old album again. I should try it and see.

  9. eweber Post author

    Thanks for stopping by Don! Yes, I too enjoyed that book:-) What a cool experiment to go back and listen to music that once inspired action — to see its current effects now that tastes change. Would love to hear the results:-) to your tastes and your programming:-)

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  11. Viveca

    Very interesting! I am listening to Chopin right now and often put him in when I am writing or creating.

    I will try Bach now and see if I notice a difference.

    I started working with music about a year or so ago. For most of my adult life I worked in silence. When I hit my forties I needed more peace and energy and started tuning into the classics. They deliver that is for sure!

    Thanks for this topic and information!


    Vivecas last blog post..Fatigue & Fear — Yikes. How to breakthrough and live fearlessly

  12. eweber Post author

    Thanks for the comment Viveca, and also for sharing the way you are so open to shift and try new approaches. How refreshing! Cannot wait to see what results you get with Bach! Do let us know.

    Last night I switched to pick me up tunes when I started to slow down and got a ton of work done as a result. It’s amazing to see brain waves speed up or slow down to good music! Who’d have guessed!

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  16. eweber Post author

    Alan you build a good case here for the pattern one gets used to also:-) Thanks for another good point on music and the mind. Do you sense that people should change regular routines and try a few different sounds while working?

  17. Jeanne Male

    Your post made me realize that I have become more cautious with the use of music during training sessions. I used to play “training tunes” known to stimulate creativity during individual and group breakouts, etc. but got feedback that groups wanted “real” music. Realizing that musical taste is quite varied, I added several thousand selections of virtually every musical genre and would poll groups to identify trends. Unfortunately, the last group that I used this with could not be pleased, thus, the music became a source of backlash. What are your thoughts?

  18. eweber Post author

    Jeanne, you make a great point for differences. Some music lends itself more across groups — and yet I always find it’s exciting to share these results with groups and have them help to make the selections.

    It even differs for one person – depending on what you are doing, where your brain waves are at the moment, and other variables. So it’s best to tread lightly and start with classical for instance – to allow the groups’ intervention along the way. It’s fun to challenge folks to try variations and report results. I’ve seen great results that way:-) You?

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  21. Stephen Dolle

    Good overview of how different music can impact and shape our cognitive function and moods. I am a neuroscientist and drum circle facilitator, so I am always exploring how different rhythmic patterns and tonal instruments affects listeners and participants. Perhaps my best research was a study on sensory integration I undertook with a metronome, and tested a variety of syncopated and unsyncopated patterns on persons with neurological disorders and sensory integration dysfunction. My findings seem to further explain the “Mozart Effect” in music and cognition, whereas, highly melodic is easy to integrate and repetitive or unsyncopated is more challenging and tends to impede cognition. But to some degree, it is how and at what level it is used.

    Stephen Dolle
    “Stuff for your Brain”

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  26. Darlene Heredia

    I love music. I am so happy I read this information. Thank you for posting the link Dr. Weber. I learned something new about music here. I will try new music and begin to listen to different kinds when studying from now on.

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  28. Pamela Jordan

    While writing a 10,000 word Research Paper during my Music Degree, I listened to Mozart Symphonies and Concertos. I found that the music kept me mentally sharp and alert and my emotions even. That was before i read Don Campbell’s ‘The Mozart Effect’. Nowadays I listen to Mozart while bookkeeping or any mental work requiring deep concentration, especially when it’s a task I don’t really want to do. Classical music as per Mozart has the perfect structure for helping us complete tasks.

  29. eweber Post author

    Pamela thanks for sharing an amazing strategy for melding arts and science – through music. There are also ways to do it through many others intelligences, and it adds incredible dividends to a learner’s takeaway.

    We need to look beyond the industry of learning to enjoy more brain based benefits such as those you illustrated so well.

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  32. Crispy

    Thanks this will help with my science fair project on “The effect of music on short-term recall”!

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  34. mwedderburn

    II find that I’m most productive and my concentration at its highest when I listen to gospel music at work, particularly certain singers, i.e., Bebe & Cece Winans, because the songs are very melodic and puts me in a relax state where I can get tedious tasks done effortlessly, and the stress of loud conversations, ringing doesn’t aggravate me as much.
    Romantic music on the other hand allows me to read all day without needing too much to eat, etc.
    I sometimes find myself repeating certain songs because they puts me in a happy contemplative space.

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  38. eweber Post author

    Great article MUSIC IN THE AIR from KNOWINNOVATION and thanks for the shout out. There are so many ways that music can alter learning and leading and it takes a community to pull these all together in ways that enable music to benefit all! Ellen

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