Music and the Brain


Listening to music is an everyday occurrence for many. Along with being an enjoyable activity, there are numerous other benefits – it can improve brain function and mental health.

How Does the Brain Respond to Music?

Different areas of the brain respond to music in different ways. For example, the brain’s frontal lobe, which is used in decision-making and planning, can be enhanced when listening to music. The amygdala, which processes emotions, can also be highly influenced, causing people to feel more upbeat or sad depending on the type of music they are listening to. Other areas that music influences include:

  • The hippocampus – this area of the brain is responsible for producing and retrieving memories. Listening to music can help the hippocampus produce new neurons and help to improve memory.
  • Broca’s area – this part of the brain enables speech and helps people to express music by singing or playing an instrument.
  • Cerebellum – coordinating movement and storing physical memory, the cerebellum helps people to remember how to play musical instruments.
  • Wernicke’s area – this part of the brain comprehends language, both written and spoken, and helps the brain to understand and enjoy music.

Music influences almost the whole brain, activating the auditory cortex in the temporal lobes, memory regions, and beyond. Some research also suggests that the brain’s motor system is affected by music, which helps people to pick up the beat of music easier.[1]

Research has also found that music can stimulate the release of dopamine, also known as the pleasure hormone. There is an old misconception that the best type of music to listen to is classical, with some thinking that it makes people more intelligent and increases brain activity. However, no matter the kind of music, listening has significant benefits.

Regularly listening to music also helps to strengthen the brain. As music helps to activate many areas of the brain, it can keep various pathways open and alive, helping to improve cognitive functioning, learning, and happiness.

Combining listening to music with dancing can bring even more benefits as well. Dancing is both social and physical activity which can foster deeper connections with others as well as release endorphins from exercise. Dancing to music helps people to connect or reconnect with their bodies and explore movement in conjunction with different beats and tempos.

The human love of music may have had an evolutionary purpose, as the brain circuits wired for survival are also involved in musical processing. Listening to music also stimulates the release of oxytocin, which promotes bonding with others, and music may have played a role in social cohesion, as groups with a strong bond were more likely to survive.

Executive Function

Executive function is a set of skills involved in planning, memory, and multitasking. When people struggle with executive function, they may have difficulty with time management, focus, and paying attention.

However, a new study has revealed that music may help. In the study, participants listened to either a groove track with 120 beats per minute (bpm) or white noise. The results showed that listening to groove rhythm could boost prefrontal cognitive function, helping people with skills such as time management and emotional regulation.[2]

The Benefits of Listening to Music

Listening to music has many other benefits, including:

  • Better sleep – many people, particularly those with a history of trauma, can struggle with insomnia. Listening to soothing music can help people relax and fall asleep more easily. One study found that out of people who listened to music, an audiobook, and nothing before bed, the group who listened to music, had the best quality sleep.[3]
  • Managing pain – several studies have found that listening to music can help people manage pain. One study found that people with fibromyalgia who listened to music for an hour a day experienced a significant reduction in pain compared to those who did not.
  • More motivation – depending on the type of music, it can be either soothing or stimulating. Listening to upbeat music can help to motivate people when exercising or working, with one study finding that music with a greater tempo helped to improve the performance of cyclists.[4]

Music and the Nervous System

Music can influence and soothe the autonomic nervous system, which can help promote relaxation and feelings of safety. Calming music can affect heart rate and breathing, both of which are governed by the autonomic nervous system.

Music has long been used to reduce and manage stress. A 2013 study found that music had an impact on the autonomic nervous system in people who listened to relaxing music or the sounds of rippling water, suggesting that those who listened to music could recover more quickly after being exposed to a stressor.[5]

Music is more than just pleasant sounds. It can help people to relax, soothe the nervous system, and even promote better sleep. The way it interacts with the brain may be due to evolution, stemming from when we lived in small groups and needed to cultivate strong bonds to survive. Regardless of the type of music you listen to, it can be incredibly soothing and can improve many areas of life, from cognitive functioning to pain management.

If you have a client or know of someone struggling with anything you have read in this blog, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).


[1] Toiviainen, Petri et al. “The Chronnectome Of Musical Beat”. Neuroimage, vol 216, 2020, p. 116191. Elsevier BV, Accessed 16 Aug 2022.

[2] Fukuie T, Suwabe K, Kawase S, et al. Groove rhythm stimulates prefrontal cortex function in groove enjoyers. Sci Rep. 2022;12(1):7377. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-11324-3

[3] Harmat L, Takács J, Bódizs R. Music improves sleep quality in students. J Adv Nurs. 2008;62(3):327-35. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04602.x

[4] Waterhouse, J. et al. “Effects Of Music Tempo Upon Submaximal Cycling Performance”. Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine &Amp; Science In Sports, vol 20, no. 4, 2010, pp. 662-669. Wiley, Accessed 18 Aug 2022.

[5] Thoma MV, La Marca R, Brönnimann R, Finkel L, Ehlert U, Nater UM. The effect of music on the human stress response. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(8):e70156. doi: