Wonderful Ways Music Affects the Brain

There is little doubt that music (particularly learning how to play an instrument) can have a huge effect on the mind. You may be surprised as to how many ways! Let’s take a few minutes and review a list of different ways of how music affects the brain.

Improve Your Memory

You probably don’t need a scientist to tell you that music can simply make you feel good. But there are many more benefits to music than just getting you through a bad day. It is interesting to note that musical training – such as learning how to play an instrument – seems to increase memory skills.

Essentially it works the same way as learning a new language, in that it exercises your mind. Most challenges similar to this involve a good amount of memorisation exercises. Exercising your brain can lead to better language skills, increased literacy, and an overall memory improvement.

Reduce Stress And Anxiety

There have probably been many times in your life where things just weren’t going your way. Thinking back on those events, it’s hard to deny that hearing some of your favourite music can let you step back from your issues for a little bit. Music can be a a key element to help shed some of the stress. This is shown in these scientific studies. There are even studies that show how music can help you sleep better.

Music can provide a release like no other, and that can be particularly true if you have learned how to play an instrument. For example, picking up that guitar at the end of a long day can be the perfect anecdote to any built-up tension. You can go about your day in a much calmer state.

Anxiety is a common menopause symptom. The simple act of taking time out to play away your cares may allow you to let go of the daily stress and face the next one calmer and more relaxed. Read more about anxiety here.

Music And Ambient Noise May Improve Creativity

Some people find that focusing on a task in silence is the only way to ensure success. This may be true for some, but particularly when it comes to being more creative, sometimes the exact opposite may be true.

Enhanced levels of ambient noise (around 70db) can actually make you more creative. The theory is that background noise may subconsciously distract you just enough that you aren’t concentrating on TOO hard and allows the creative side of your brain to take control.

Music is most certainly the best ‘ambient noise’ you can find. This may explain why you can be more creative and productive when you have music playing. The whole theory may be a bit complex and it may not work for everyone, but it’s intriguing to explore.

There are a lot of ambient noise examples on YouTube. You can even buy white noise ‘machines’. If you’re finding yourself hitting creative blocks or finding it hard to concentrate, it’s worth experimenting to see if it might help you too.

Improve Your IQ Scores

It’s unlikely that many of us are members of MENSA (an organisation dedicated to those with exceptional intelligence). For the majority of us, finding ways to increase our intelligence quotient (IQ) means pouring  over all kinds of books and resources. This is in an effort to jam as much knowledge as we can into our brains.

But what if there was an easier way? A much easier way, and one that’s pretty fun and self-satisfying at the same time?

Learning to play a musical instrument is the ticket. Exercising your mind in this way can raise your IQ by several points in addition to improving overall brain function.


Are you someone that has an exercise routine implemented as part of your day? Or are you the type that struggles with the motivation to get to the gym a few times a week? Regardless of where you stand here, it’s hard to deny that music can help you push through barriers and make your workouts much more effective.

Simply put, music makes you feel good and can inspire enhanced performance without you even realising. A good example is a high tempo song that correlates to the pace of cardiovascular exercise, such as bike riding or walking/running on a treadmill.

Studies have shown that tempos in the 120 to 140 beats per minute (bpm) range lead to enhanced performance, without the subjects intentionally putting in more effort.

Pain Relief

Not only is there proof that music can make you feel good, there may also be evidence that it can actually make you feel better. The premise is that music can have an analgesic effect, meaning it can actually relieve pain.

How this works is still a subject of some debate. Does listening to your favourite music release endorphins? Or is it simply a matter that music can divert your attention away from the pain?

Another question that isn’t fully answered is whether or not the type of music makes a difference. That is, do happy, easy listening songs always tend to have that effect, or is it more of a personal preference? If you’re a metal head, does that type of music make you feel better than a style that isn’t really ‘your thing’?

Help With Restoring Your Hormonal Balance

As we age, we’ll experience the inevitable side effect where our hormones get out of balance. Music may naturally raise neurotransmitter activity (increased brain function) or cytokines (boosted immune system). So it could potentially have the same effect with hormonal regulation as well, although expectations  should be realistic.

The key thing is that listening to music is non-invasive, and there are no chemicals or procedures involved. While the effect of music on your hormones cannot be considered a complete substitute for hormone therapy, it’s free, it’s fun – and every little helps!

Jazz Improvisation Can Train Your Brain To Focus

There may be no other style of music that lends itself to developing improvisational skills as jazz does. Improvising, similar to other music-related activities, may have a positive effect on brain function. In particular, it may help to develop the capacity for increased focus.

You might be familiar with the feeling if you were in a situation where you were playing ‘off the cuff’. While you may feel like you drift off a bit and enter a different mindset when you’re improvising, measurement of brain activity displayed that some musicians actually almost ‘turn off’ specific brain regions.

This may be a subconscious brain response that keeps distractions at bay, basically allowing creative juices to flow.

As a side note, does it have to be jazz? Of course not – any blues or rock player can develop impressive improvisational techniques as well.

Reduces Stress In Heart Disease Patients

Having heart disease can be stressful enough in its own right – even more so if a patient’s condition is advanced, requiring more complex treatment options. Not unexpectedly, having to go through this can elevate one’s anxiety.

Music has an overall calming effect that can affect several key factors related to coronary health. Listening to the songs you love may lower your blood pressure, decrease your heart rate, and bring an overall sense of calmness.

Stress, in particular, has been shown to be a major component in some heart-related issues. Anything that reduces stress should be considered as part of a patient’s treatment plan – and what better way to do that than to jam out to your favourite tunes?

Boost Your Immune System

Who would have thought that listening to music can have a big impact on how well your body fights disease?

It’s true. Studies show that listening to music can increase the number of antibodies in your system. The presence of antibodies can be determined by measuring cytokines level in your blood. Cytokines allow communication between the cells that make up your immune system.

Subjects in this study sang for a period of one hour. Their cytokine levels were measured before and after the activity, with results showing an increase after the hour of singing. The conclusion from this, is that the effectiveness of the immune system may have been improved as a result of the activity

Music Therapy Improves Quality Of Life

The term ‘quality of life’ is frequently used with regard to people living with incurable conditions such as dementia. Sadly, patients with these types of illness may experience decreased quality of life, because they lack the normalised coping skills that most unaffected people possess.

People suffering from conditions like dementia may benefit significantly if music therapy is incorporated as part of a comprehensive treatment program. Benefits can include enhanced self-esteem along with reduced depression, stress, and anxiety, as well as an increased level of overall cognitive skills.

Music Therapy Is Effective In Helping Patients With Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a condition where music seems to have an incredibly positive effect for sufferers. Many patients in the advanced stages of illness can tend to withdraw completely. In these cases, most forms of communication and visual recognition can be severely impacted.

There are many instances where people with Alzheimer’s react positively to a piece of familiar music from their past. Many non-verbal patients seem to ‘light up’ and even sing along. Music therapy has been shown to be amazingly effective in cases where other efforts to ‘break through the wall’ have been unsuccessful.

Bottom Line

It’s amazing what a positive effect music can have on the human brain, and how it can have such a measurable beneficial effect on so many different aspects of our lives and our health.

The science behind the impact of music is still in its infancy. We’re still in the relatively early stages of using medical technology and innovation to see what is going on inside our brains. As technology improves, our understanding of why music plays such an important role in our lives will start to become clearer.

We have looked at just some of the reasons why learning to play music – regardless of your age – can be a huge benefit to your health and wellbeing, and if learning a musical instrument isn’t possible, there are also some great apps aimed at improving your wellbeing, which let you play music simply by tapping your finger!


Jean Gabriel

Director at NuMusician