The Powerful Effect of Music on the Brain

“Music is truly the universal language, and when it is excellently expressed how deeply it moves our souls.” - David O. McKay

Music has been scientifically proven to have a powerful effect on the brain. Recent research shows that music can help in many aspects of the brain, including pain reduction, stress relief, memory, and brain injuries. In the book The Power of Music , Elena Mannes says, “Scientists have found that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function.” Let’s look at some of the ways music can aid in the healing and stimulation of the human brain.

Pain Reduction

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” —Billy Joel

A 2014 study found that music was helpful for patients with fibromyalgia. The study showed that listening to relaxing music of the patient’s choice “reduced pain and increased functional mobility significantly.” Researchers believe that music eases pain because listening to it triggers opioids—the body’s natural pain relievers. In a 2013 study, people given the opioid blocking drug Naltrexone experienced less pleasure while listening to their favorite song, suggesting music activates the release of pain-relieving opioids.

Stress Relief

Depending on the type of music you listen to, relaxing music can alleviate stress by lowering cortisol levels, which is the hormone released in response to stress.

A 2013 study demonstrates a link between music and decreased stress in pediatric emergency room patients. “In the trial with 42 children ages 3 to 11, University of Alberta researchers found that patients who listened to relaxing music while getting an IV inserted reported significantly less pain, and some demonstrated significantly less distress, compared with patients who did not listen to music,” according to the American Psychological Association.


Studies linking music to memory recall have increased since the early 20th century, when the research first emerged. Listening to certain music can take your mind back decades in an instant. In a previous blog post we published, titled “Studies Prove Music Boosts Brain Activity in Alzheimer’s Patients,” we cited the documentary Alive Inside , which chronicled how music awakened patients suffering from memory loss. Neurologist Oliver Sacks said, “Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory. … It brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.”

A 2014 study was conducted on 89 patients with dementia, where the patient and caregivers were randomly assigned either a 10-week music listening coaching group, a 10-week singing coaching group, or regular care. The results showed that “compared with usual care, both singing and music listening improved mood, orientation, and remote episodic memory and to a lesser extent, also attention and executive function and general cognition. Singing also enhanced short-term and working memory and caregiver well-being, whereas music listening had a positive effect on quality of life.”

Seizure, Brain Injury, or Stroke

It has been reported that the brains of patients with epilepsy respond differently to music than people who do not have epilepsy. “Persons with epilepsy synchronize before a seizure. However, in our study, patients with epilepsy synchronized to the music without having a seizure,” said Christine Charyton, of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Charyton explained that stress causes seizures to occur and added, “By listening to the music, many patients reported that they felt relaxed.”

Stroke patients who listened to music in the early stages after a stroke showed an improvement in recovery according to a 2008 study. Author of the study, Teppo Särkämö, suggested that patients start listening to music soon after the stroke, as many changes occur during the first weeks and months of recovery. “We found that three months after the stroke, verbal memory improved from the first week post-stroke by 60 percent in music listeners,” said Särkämö.

In 1973 a music-based treatment called Melodic Intonation Therapy was developed to help stroke survivors or people who suffer with aphasia to be able to communicate again. The purpose of the therapy is to convert singing into speech. According to Research and Hope , even though these patients aren’t able to speak, “they are often able to sing, sometimes with the same fluency and clarity they had before the onset of illness.”

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