Music Therapy & The Brain

Music therapy is one of the most interesting subjects that I have researched. When you listen to a song, you may notice an emotional change, or memories that come back to you, but you do not realize what is actually going on in your brain. Music is a whole-brain experience. So for that reason, we get pretty science-y today!

“Fact: One of the only activates that activates, stimulates, and uses the entire brain is music.”

– Unknown

When I was in the hospital two years ago was when I was first introduced to it. The group went into a room for one of our nightly therapy meetings, that night’s was music therapy. The therapist started off the meeting off by playing Perfect by P!nk. She wanted us to sit and really listen the song. I was definitely feeling something, just a sadness really. I looked around the room and many people were crying. This is because of the amygdala. It is associated with emotional processing, which is one of the many places music goes in the brain. This can trigger an emotional response to music. I was amazed at how the song interacted with people and how it made them feel. I couldn’t believe a song, a popular one at that, was making people cry. I can’t fully remember, but I might have slipped a tear or two. After the song was over, she wanted us to write on a piece of paper what our mind tells us. For example, mine was “You deserved it” and I was referencing the rape when I was 13 as well as current events that were going on around me. We all had to say what we wrote. I cried, I could barely get any of my words out when I explained it. The amount of support I had was amazing. People were rubbing my arms, someone got up to give me a hug, I felt so cared about.

Music really brings people together.

Science is fun and interesting and I wanted to incorporate some interesting facts about music and what it does to the brain into this post. When researching about just how the music truly affects the brain, I stumbled upon a podcast called The Feeling is Musical and in their podcast episode Music & the Brain: Part One. Erica Lee is the host on the show and she speaks with guest, Colby Cumine, who happens to be a board-certified music therapist. He explains how music affects the brain from when it goes into the ears and where and what it affects.

Below, I will summarize what he explains and try to make it a little more understandable. Some people prefer to listen, so I am also going to link the podcast, also!–the-Brain–Part-One-ebb9n8

***Disclaimer – I am not a doctor and I am not a professor. I have researched this topic a lot from credible sources but, I do not know everything.***

Erica and Colby begin talking about how sound vibrations flow in our ears and the nerves that are deep within our inner ear feel the different wavelengths and amplitudes. The way they vibrate will hit different nerves. Your auditory cortex then interprets what those nerves are experiencing as sound, and this includes the different elements of music such as volume, tempo, speed, etc. After that happens, Colby explains that the auditory cortex makes its approximation, basically a guess, and it sends that representation to our frontal lobe, which includes our language processing center the Brodmann’s area. This helps us to be able to process lyrics and what not. The limbic system is the part of the brain that is involved in our behavioral, memory, and emotional responses. Those quick snap reactions. It mainly focuses on behaviors for our survival, such as fight or flight reactions. Included in this system are the:

  • Hippocampus – it’s major role is with memory. It is considered the center of the memory, autonomic nervous system, and emotion.
  • Amygdala – This is where our survival behaviors and emotions kick in. It is in charge of helping us detect threats, fight or flight responses, and any other fear-related behavior. This is where stress and anxiety come from.
  • Hypothalamus – I needed some help with this one, so I researched. It’s big job is hormone control and to maintain homeostasis.

Colby states that from our frontal lobe it goes to our prefrontal cortex – that approximation – is formed, it gets sent to the frontal cortex, which, again we know includes Brodmann’s area – then the prefrontal cortex and basically goes into deeper analysis intervals. Colby goes on to explain that the brain, in a way, picks apart what is happening in the music. At the same time, some of that sound is processed in the premotor cortex, which is responsible for how we are going to react to music. He uses an example of hearing a sharp part in a song that you didn’t expect that makes you jump. It creates what is known as a visceral response in you. Something you aren’t expecting, and it is startling.

The reason I wanted to talk about all of these different parts of the brain and what they do is because music does so much for our bodies! Music therapy is a used as a treatment for trauma healing. It increases our adrenaline levels, as well as effects our immune system! In the podcast, Colby says that music can actually increase the number of antibodies that we produce depending on what we are listening to. He talks about a study on rats that were listening to music and it showed they had a higher number of antibodies than the rats that were not listening to music. When the brain hears something, it gives us these immediate reactions to what the noise is.

During the podcast, Colby explains that when your brain hears music, it affects every part of the brain. That is, except the part dedicated to sight. The only time sight is triggered is if someone is playing an instrument and is watching their fingers as they practice and when they are reading music. So the frontal lobe, thinking and processing and language so we can interpret lyrics. When music gets to our premotor cortex, it causes us to want to move and dance. It is in our emotional centers, where the amygdala creates an emotional response to what we are listening to.

Dopamine is our primary pleasure neurotransmitter. It plays a role in our cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning. It is released when we listen to music that we like. That is because dopamine is associated with the reward center of the brain, and the brain releases it when you have done something satisfying, such as get an answer correct on a test. It helps us determine how much pleasure we get from something that we can predict accurately. So, if we are no longer learning anything new (this being a repetitive song), we get bored of listening to it. It is no longer enjoyable for us and no longer releases our dopamine.

We release even more dopamine when we are able to predict something accurately. When a song is really stable, predictable, and repetitive, it makes us feel complete. There are also those small differences throughout a song, such as tone changes, which release more and more dopamine because the song is hitting that sweet spot. You know the feeling? When you think a song is going to go one way, and it does in fact go that way. Ahhhh love it. It keeps it engaging for us.

Music is so powerful that it interacts with us on so many levels. It reaches memories, emotions, movements, and influences our reactions to things.

Here are SOME ways that music therapy can help you:

  • Develop emotional self-understanding
  • Helps healthy circulation by reducing blood pressure and stabilizing heart rate.
  • Helps process life challenges as well as experiences.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety – reduces the production of cortisol and increasing the release of stress reducing neurotransmitters.
  • Helps strengthen the immune system by triggering the production of gamma globulin A (“a protein fraction of blood serum containing many antibodies that protect against bacterial and viral infectious diseases.”)
  • It improves mood by increasing the production of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins
  • Growth in self-image and awareness
  • Helps with managing pain.
  • Build social connections

Found on, according to Presentation to U.S. Congress, 2007, Washington D.C. (Invited and arranged by the National Association of Music Merchants/NAMM, on “The Impact of Music on the Lives of Children and Adolescents”), it is believed that music helps teens release or be able to control their emotions. It also helps them to cope with situations such as peer pressure, substance abuse, social life, family, pressure of study, the pain of loss or abuse, or any other difficult situation.

I know we all enjoy music, so I had people send me songs that make them feel good. Maybe want to get up and dance! That releases that dopamine like crazy. I’m very happy with the amount of songs I have received from people, and I really hope you take the time to listen to some of them. 🙂

WARNING: Some songs have inappropriate words in them.

Enjoy! 🙂

-Bipolar Weirdo

****Disclaimer: I am not a healthcare professional. My blog is used to discuss mental health in a way that is easier for people to understand. My information comes from a wide variety of books by trustworthy authors, my personal healthcare providers, and reputable online sources. If you have mental health related questions, I highly recommend you seek a healthcare professional.*****

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