Music is one of the few activities where people around the globe respond physically and psychologically in similar ways. Melodies can evoke common emotions and bodily sensations across cultures. For example, studies confirm that lower-pitched sounds can universally evoke feelings of darkness, sadness, and tension, while higher-pitched sounds evoke happier emotions. Music truly is a universal language and connects different people across a myriad of cultures, traditions, and practices all over the world.

There is no doubt about it; music has the power to touch our souls and lift our spirits. But can it actually improve your brain and mental health, and help you heal?

Yes, science says it can.

Advances in neuroscience and brain imaging are revealing what’s happening in the brain that prove this true.

Music Is Mind Medicine

Music is so beneficial for your brain because it is one of the few activities that stimulates your entire brain. Because music is structural, mathematical, and architectural based on relationships between one note and the next, it’s a total brain workout. When you listen to music, much more is happening in your body than simple auditory processing. One imaging study found that music activated auditory, motor, and limbic brain regions no matter whether people were listening to Vivaldi or Taylor Swift.

The effects of music are vast and can be cognitive, psychological, social, behavioral, and emotional.Music helps your brain function more efficiently in many ways. Here’s how music can positively affect your brain and mental health:

Reduces Stress and Depression

When listening to music, the brain releases dopamine, which is an important part of the pleasure-reward and motivational systems. Higher dopamine levels can improve concentration, boost mood, and enhance memory. Listening to music can also lower cortisol, the stress hormone. Because of this, it helps regulate emotions and improve mood, making it a powerful tool for emotional well-being and mental health.

Specifically, music with slow tempo and repetitive patterns has been found to have a relaxing effect on the nervous system, promoting a sense of calmness. One study found that music had documented positive effects on brain chemistry and associated mental and physical health benefits in four areas:

Science shows that music can help alleviate depression and help a person feel more hopeful and in control of their life. There is even evidence that listening to music can aid in rewiring trauma in the brain.

Improves Learning and Memory

Music improves the overall function of the brain and boosts your brain power. Learning a musical instrument is like training for the Olympics for your brain and has been linked to improved cognitive abilities and academic achievement in many studies. There is even evidence showing that people who’ve had musical training are better at math and science, and according to research, people who take music lessons regularly have more learning capacity than people who don’t.

man listening to music

Specifically, one study showed improvement in the areas of cognitive flexibility, working memory, and processing speed, which may explain the link to improved academic achievement. The brains of children with musical training showed more activation and looked more mature in terms of executive functioning networks. Both children and adults had better executive functioning skills than nonmusicians. Science has determined that it’s possible to use music to help a young brain retain information and enhance learning and listening to music has been shown to significantly improve working memory in older adults.

Enhances Cognition

Music has the power to improve specific higher brain functions, such as problem-solving, concentration and attention, reading and literacy, reasoning, and mathematical abilities. Professional musicians’ brain scans reveal noticeably more symmetry, larger areas of the brain responsible for motor control, auditory processing, and spatial coordination, and a more developed corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is the band of nerve fibers that connects the two sides of the brain to each other, allowing communication.

Learning to play a musical instrument is one of the best things you can do for your brain, at any age. When information transfers more efficiently through the corpus callosum, memory and other cognitive processes benefit. One study showed that just four years of music lessons in youth improved certain brain functions that still showed up in tests 40 years later!

However, if you’re not a musician, just listening to music for enjoyment has positive effects too. Seniors who listened to specific types of music showed increased processing speed and improved episodic memory. Other tests revealed that listening to background music can increase productivity and enhance cognitive performance and creativity on some tasks.

Boosts Creativity and Connectivity

Music can improve creativity, but not all types of music have this effect. Specifically, studies found that upbeat and happy tunes can encourage creative and innovative thinking. Other research used MRIs to see how participants’ brains reacted to music they especially liked. Those experiments saw peoples’ brains light up more in response to their favorite tracks. Scientists discovered that listening to your favorite music makes a big difference in how your brain responds.

The article, Your Favorite Music Has 1 Major Impact on Your Brain Says Science, quotes the study:

“We speculate that listening to music has the potential to alter brain network connectivity organization and that music preference dictates the connectivity that can be expected,’ the study authors write. When you listen to music you don’t love, the brain’s connectivity between memory and emotional centers doesn’t light up.”

Builds Language Skills

People with language or speaking challenges can benefit from music therapy. One study discovered that musicians – amateurs and professionals alike – were better able to hear targeted sounds in a noisy environment, which is an important skill for language. Research using brain-imaging shows that music activates many diverse parts of the brain, including an overlap where the brain processes music and language. This neural relationship suggests that parts of the neural circuitries established for language may have been recycled during evolution for musicality, or vice versa. Music may have served as a springboard for language to emerge.

Encourages Neuroplasticity

Music encourages neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to grow and reorganize itself. Learning and practicing music can create new neural connections and strengthen existing ones, particularly in areas associated with auditory processing and motor skills.

young adults singing

This is why musicians’ brains are different from people who don’t play instruments. The article, Neuroscience of Music — How Music Enhances Learning Through Neuroplasticity, explains it like this:

“An active engagement with musical sounds not only enhances neuroplasticity,… but also enables the nervous system to provide the stable scaffolding of meaningful patterns so important to learning. The brain is unable to process all of the available sensory information from second to second, and thus must selectively enhance what is relevant,’ … Playing an instrument primes the brain to choose what is relevant in a complex process that may involve reading or remembering a score, timing issues and coordination with other musicians.”

Giving Your Brain a Boost with Music and Neurofeedback

Research is proving that music therapy can improve brain and mental health outcomes in a wide variety of populations, from premature infants and children with autism, ADHD or developmental and learning disabilities, to people with emotional trauma, substance abuse problems, brain injuries, physical disabilities, acute and chronic pain, depression, Parkinson’s disease, and more. Science has recorded measurable changes in the brain following music therapy.

Neurofeedack brain training utilizes the same process as music to change and improve your brain — neuroplasticity. In fact, neurofeedback and music can be combined in a therapeutic approach known as “neurologic music therapy” or “neurofeedback-assisted music therapy” which harnesses the powerful benefits of both.

Just as in music listening, research shows that the brain reacts dynamically to the stimulus, which is often music, in brain training, rewiring itself for healthier functioning. In particular, both neurofeedback and music listening strengthen inhibitory, calming brain systems, which supports self-control and quiets many problematic brain activity patterns.


Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that teaches a person’s brain optimal functioning through real-time monitoring of brainwave activity and feedback. A brain learns to perform at ideal levels and continues to self-regulate and operate at those levels after training, which relieves a myriad of problematic symptoms of many physical and mental health conditions.

At Grey Matters, we are passionate about helping people live their best lives, including optimizing their brain’s health and function through neurofeedback training. Neurofeedback has been scientifically proven to help many conditions, including anxiety, depression, autism, apraxia, ADD and ADHD, concussion and brain injuries, OCD, stroke recovery, addictions, migraines, chronic pain, chemo brain, and more. Give us a call at (463) 345-4772 or send us a message today to find out how we can help you.

In the meantime, crank up the tunes!

Images sources:
First: By Paul Bradbury/Caia Image
Second: Image by Freepik
Third: Image by Freepik