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The effect of music on the brain

Published 7 April 2021 / 4 min read


On World Health Day, we explore how music can make a difference to our wellbeing.

This World Health Day, the World Health Organisation is calling on leaders to ensure that everyone’s living and working conditions are conducive to good health. With this in mind, we take a look at the importance of audio in our lives, and in particular how music can help people.

It’s often quoted that music is good for us, but how much does music actually help us? It’s just music, right? Sure, we can put on an upbeat song and it’ll make us feel in a good mood. But, if we look a bit deeper, science shows us that there is much more to it than we initially think. 

Music is a powerful tool and has the ability to help people in many different ways. But how is it that music has the ability to do this? How does it help ease migraine pain, reduce anxiety, improve performance and enhance memory (to name a few)?

When you listen to music specific parts of your brain are stimulated, the Amygdala, Hippocampus, and Nucleus Accumbens.

The Nucleus Accumbens is part of your brain’s reward system, the area of your brain which processes rewarding and reinforcing stimuli like food, exercise or being in love. It is the part of the brain that releases neurotransmitter dopamine – your pleasure hormone.

The Amygdala is the part of your brain that triggers emotions. “Emotions are given meaning, remembered, and attached to associations and responses to them.”

The Hippocampus is the area of your brain responsible for memory. It produces and retrieves memories and regulates emotional responses.

These parts of the brain all light up and are active when listening to music, Neuroscientist Dr Kiminobu Sugaya’s and world-renowned violinist Ayako Yonetani’s fascinating work shows how various parts of the brain respond to music, in UCF’s article.

Our bodies are made up of 70% water, scientists state that the vibrations (from music) passing through the water in our bodies promotes energy flow and circulation. The frequency waves end up synchronising with our brainwaves, which in turn can have physical and emotional benefits. Eugenie previously covered the power of sound healing in this article.

Scientists have also seen that listening to music can alter your heart rate and blood pressure depending on what kind of music you listen to. Factors including the tempo, intensity of the music and whether or not you are a musician can all affect this.

With music’s ability to stimulate the brain and affect the body in so many ways, it’s no wonder music can help us through so many aspects of life. We look at some of these aspects a little more in detail:

There are many ways music can aid in your day-to-day life. Whilst some music therapy will require the support of a practitioner, understanding the power of music can help improve your body and wellbeing for yourself.

“But what kind of music should I be listening to?” Well, it depends on you as an individual and what you are trying to achieve. Generally, music that you are familiar with and that you enjoy has the best overall response. Listening to at least 10 minutes of music can make a difference. 

The importance of music to our wellness was a core part of the inspiration behind IRIS, and our passion for improving the quality of audio we all listen to, enabling the world to Listen Well.

“Music is at the centre of every culture, every tribe and every key moment in our lives. It can spark a memory and has the power to lift an Alzheimer’s sufferer out of their chair. Sounds influence and enhance every emotion. Music makes us smile, cry and helps us to reach a state of relaxation, motivation, focus, it can even help us get to sleep.” Jacobi Anstruther, IRIS CEO & Founder

Music is all around us and is easy to access. It’s a great way to gain control of your wellbeing and help your body. So, throw on some music and let yourself heal simply by listening. Unlock the power of music.

Keep an eye out on our Instagram as we look to our IRIS family to share their stories of how music has helped them in their day-to-day life.

We are also very excited to be hosting an Instagram live with Dr. Kiminobu Sugaya. To understand more about how music affects the brain. Join the conversation this Friday 9th April 2021, 6pm BST, 1pm EDT on our Instagram @irislistenwell.