• Sue Doo

Music, emotion, and the brain

How music effects us and strengthens our brain with




“Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can't.” Johnny Depp

I was driving home the other day and Anastacia ‘Left outside alone’ came on my shuffle play of music and I was thrown back about 15 years. I had this overwhelming feeling of strength, courage, and power. It took me back to a time when that was what I needed.

What song/ songs do that for you?


They can have you feeling sad, angry, or happy. Have you wanting to curl up in a ball or shout them from the roof tops like they are an anthem for your broken heart, they can reflect the battle that you are in or calm your troubled mind.

We can all relate to the emotions that music conjures up for us or the moments in our life that it takes us back to. Those feelings of melancholy, joy, energised or relaxed and everywhere in between.

The exciting news is that neuroscientists have found, using fMRI and PET scans, how our brain reacts when we listen to music. Its like a big party in our head, neurons are firing off across our brain, in every available area. This is unlike any other situation, from doing a maths sum to playing football or painting a picture. Only music can do this and seemingly it doesn’t matter what we listen to! In fact, it is what you like that works best, so you don’t have to stick with classical tunes to get this amazing buzz. Even heavy metal music has been found to often relax and calm people.

“Where words fail, music speaks.” Hans Christian Andersen

We have learnt over the recent years that our brain can change and rewire itself, this is called neuroplasticity, and music helps to promote this. When we listen to music, we get that feel good feeling which is when dopamine is produced, the feel-good hormone and our stress hormone cortisol is reduced.


Scientists have found that music has many beneficial effects on our physical and mental health. At the age of 19, Robert Gupta was deciding on a career between medicine or as a professional concert violinist, and he was passionate about both. He secured his dream job with the LA Philharmonic and through this has gone on to support homeless people and those who have been side-lined by society. He has found how music can help the vulnerable and often the forgotten people. Those with mental health issues and provided them with a language that is deeper than words. By playing music to the homeless on Skid Row, combat victims with PTSD, and those who are labelled as criminally insane, he has found how beneficial music is to them all, helping them to find pain free moments that are not fuelled by medication, and times where they smile and become stronger emotionally.


“Music can change the world because it can change people.” Bono


Neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya and world-renowned violinist Ayako Yonetani have been working together since 2006, on the medical connection between music and the brain and their findings are astonishing.


Not only have they found how stress, anxiety, and mental health disorders can be aided by music, so can the debilitating degenerative diseases of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.


This is all great news for us, so we just need to find our music and drift away.

Please follow this link for more information and an amazing visual of the areas of the brain and how they are effected by music.

https://www.ucf.edu/pegasus/your-brain-on-music/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CMusic%20and%20the%20Brain%E2%80%9D%20explores,brain's%20ability%20to%20produce%20neurons.



My top 5 favourite music and musical moments


1. I always remember that moment in ‘Greys Anatomy’ when Meredith comes home and finds her sister and friend sad, and she puts on the music her living room and they do the “30 second” dance.


2. The theme tune to ‘Friends’ always makes me smile

3. Vivaldi’s Four seasons – heard this when I was about 16 and I love the violins


4. Christmas music – just makes me feel festive, having lived in a hot country for many years it reignited all those childhood memories and emotions of a UK Christmas


5. My go to dancing song is The Killers ‘Mr Brightside’


And as I reach the end of the list my mind is pinging to all my favourite songs and artists, Freddy Mercury, Lewis Capaldi, Paloma Faith, Freya Riding, the time I saw Ellie Goulding live.


I feel happy and excited, the knowledge that music is strengthening our brain and helping our physical and mental health is wonderful to know.

So, what do we do?

Go and find your favourite song, turn it up loud and dance, or put your headphones on, relax back, and let the stress drift away and the dopamine flow.

“Music is indivisible.

The dualism of feeling and thinking

must be resolved to a state of unity

in which

one thinks with the heart

and feels with the brain.”

George Szell

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