Music on the Brain

Think of your favorite song.  Can you hear those first few notes? Can you hear the melody, the pitch, the rhythm? Does it make you want to sing along or tap your foot to the beat?  Does it conjure up a certain emotion or a long-lost memory? 

When we hear a good song, it triggers something deep, something basic within us. Music cuts to the core of who we are. It reminds us of our past and lets us enjoy the present.

But music is also scientific and mathematical. It's possible to track its effects on the brain. If you have ever wondered how music affects us on a biological level, try these titles:

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin. Levitin highlights the evolutionary role of music and how it has helped create who we are today. He talks about the role of music in language, mathematics, and society. Levitin works hard to explain the technical side of music while still respecting the awe we often experience from listening or playing music.


Robert Jourdain’s Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy begins by explaining musical terms for anyone who has forgotten the basics of musical knowledge. Jourdain pulls from a wide variety of musical compositions to explain his theories and most are pulled from the Western musical heritage. Much of the text focuses on how music affects us on an emotional level.


Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks is a look into music and brain disorders. Sacks discusses different disorders he has encountered as a neurological physician.  Disorders range from one extreme to the other.  A person can suffer from amusia, where they cannot properly process music.  Another person can have musical hallucinations, where they constantly hear music playing in their heads.  He writes in an informal style and includes many stories about patients he has seen in his neurological practice.

First photo courtesy of Zupao.