National Geographic

Why Does Music Feel So Good?

One day several years ago Valorie Salimpoor took a drive that would change the course of her life. She was at the peak of what she now calls her “quarter-life crisis,” not knowing what kind of career she wanted or how she might use her undergraduate neuroscience training. Hoping an outing might clear her head, that day she jumped in her car and switched on the radio. She heard the charging tempo and jaunty, teasing violin of Johannes Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 5.

“This piece of music came on, and something just happened,” Salimpoor recalls. “I just felt this rush of emotion come through me. It was so intense.” She pulled over to the side of the street so she could concentrate on the song and the pleasure it gave her.

When the song was over, Salimpoor’s mind raced with questions. “I was thinking, wow, what just happened? A few minutes ago I was so depressed, and now I’m euphoric,” she says. “I decided that I had to figure out how this happened — that that’s what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.”

Music moves people of all cultures, in a way that doesn’t seem to happen with other animals. Nobody really understands why listening to music — which, unlike sex or food, has no intrinsic value — can trigger such profoundly rewarding experiences. Salimpoor and other neuroscientists are trying to figure it out with the help of brain scanners.

Yesterday, for example, researchers from Stanford reported that when listening to a new piece of classical music, different people show the same patterns of synchronized activity in several brain areas, suggesting some level of universal experience. But obviously no one’s experience is exactly the same. In today’s issue of Science, Salimpoor’s group reports that when you listen to a song for the first time, the strength of certain neural connections can predict how much you like the music, and that these preferences are guided by what you’ve heard and enjoyed in the past.

After Salimpoor had the car epiphany, she rushed home to her computer and Googled “music and the brain.” That led her to graduate school at McGill University, working in the lab of neuroscientist Robert Zatorre.

A few years ago, Salimpoor and Zatorre performed another type of brain scanning experiment in which participants listened to music that gave them goosebumps or chills. The researchers then injected them with a radioactive tracer that binds to the receptors of dopamine, a chemical that’s involved in motivation and reward. With this technique, called positron emission tomography or PET, the researchers showed that 15 minutes after participants listened to their favorite song, their brains flooded with dopamine.

The dopamine system is old, evolutionarily speaking, and is active in many animals during sex and eating. “But animals don’t get intense pleasures to music,” Salimpoor says. “So we knew there had to be a lot more to it.”

In the new experiment, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track real-time brain activity as participants listened to the first 30 seconds of 60 unfamiliar songs. To quantify how much they liked the music, participants were given the chance to buy the full version of each song — with their own money! — using a computer program resembling iTunes. The program was set up like an auction, so participants would choose how much they were willing to spend on the song, with bids ranging from $0 to $2.

You can imagine how tricky it was to design this experiment. All of the participants had to listen to the same set of never-heard-before songs, and yet, in order to get enough useable data, there had to be a reasonable chance that they would like some of the songs enough to buy them.

Salimpoor began by giving 126 volunteers comprehensive surveys about their musical preferences. “We asked them to list all of the music they listen to, everything they like, everything they’ve ever bought,” Salimpoor says. She ultimately scanned 19 volunteers who had indicated similar preferences, mostly electronic and indie music. “In Montreal there’s a big indie scene,” she says.

To create the list of unfamiliar songs, Salimpoor first looked at songs and artists that showed up on many of the volunteers’ surveys. She plugged those choices into musical recommendation programs, such as Pandora and iTunes, to find similar but less well-known selections. She also asked people who worked at local music stores what new songs they’d recommend in those genres.

Here’s a sampling of 3 songs from the final list of 60:

The brain scans highlighted the nucleus accumbens, often referred to as the brain’s ‘pleasure center’, a deep region of the brain that connects to dopamine neurons and is activated during eating, gambling and sex. It turns out that connections between the nucleus accumbens and several other brain areas could predict how much a participant was willing to spend on a given song. Those areas included the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotion, the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making.

The data are “compelling,” especially because the study objectively quantified the participants’ preferences, notes Thalia Wheatley, a psychology professor at Dartmouth College who has studied links between music, motion and emotion. The emphasis on connectivity between regions, rather than any particular region by itself, is also intriguing, she says. ”Cortical activity alone does not predict bid value. Hooking up the temporal and evaluative processing in the cortex with the (more primitive) reward areas appears to be the key.”

So why is it that one person might spend $2 on a song while another pans it? Salimpoor says it all depends on past musical experiences. “Depending on what styles youre used to — Eastern, Western, jazz, heavy metal, pop — all of these have very different rules they follow, and they’re all implicitly recorded in your brain,” she says. “Whether you realize it or not, every time you’re listening to music, you’re constantly activating these templates that you have.”

Using those musical memory templates, the nucleus accumbens then acts as a prediction machine, she says. It predicts the reward that you’ll feel from a given piece of music based on similar types of music you’ve heard before. If you like it better than predicted, it registers as intense pleasure. If you feel worse than predicted, you feel bored or disappointed.

“New music is presumably rewarding not only because it fits implicitly learned patterns but because it deviates from those patterns, however slightly,” Wheatley says. But this finding leads to new questions. “It just made me wonder whether people have different preferences or tolerances for how much a new song deviates from the well-worn path of previously heard music structures.”

There are lots of other questions for future studies to probe. How does our brain make those musical templates? How long do we have to listen to a song before we know whether we like it? Why did my sister and I have such drastically different musical tastes growing up, even though our exposures were pretty much the same?

But for now the study has given Salimpoor a new way to think about what happened to her that day in the car. ”That day, it all seemed like such a big mystery — what the heck is happening in my brain?” she says. But if she heard the song again today, she’d be able to tell a reasonable story of her mind’s workings.

“I’d be like, oh my god I just released dopamine, and my nucleus accumbens is now communicating with the superior temporal gyrus, and that’s pulling up some other memories of when I was 12 and playing the violin,” she says, laughing. “And then that’s linking it to my visual centers, so I can imagine this perfect synchronized orchestra and me playing a violin in there. And I’d be predicting the next sounds from each instrument in the orchestra, and the whole orchestra, so it’s a local and global prediciton going on at the same time.”

Music, she says, is an intellectual reward. “It’s really an exercise for your whole brain.”

There are 109 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Reinaldo Martinez
    April 11, 2013

    Very interesting research. I all seems to match nicely. Only one comment comes to mind. Evenhtough, the odds of liking music the first time you hear it might depend on past musucial exposure, new songs also “grow” into us. We might not like a song the first time we hear it, but after reapeated listening of the song, we sometimes “love” it. This might imply the connectivity between regions can be developed.

  2. Jared Magneson
    April 11, 2013

    Indeed, a very interesting piece, Virginia! I’ve often wondered why my Metal makes me feel so good, when the topics are so ultimately and nefariously dark and doom-laden. I thought it had something to do with dopamine and states of primordial “fight reaction” (as opposed to other forms of music which may induce the “flight reaction”, such as depressing, whining emo music…), but hadn’t made any connection to the memory structure involved. Very good insight.

  3. Andrew
    April 11, 2013

    So what about people who don’t like music? I’m 51 now and I’ve always hated music. My mother said that if she switched the radio on when I was a baby I would scream and thrash about until she switched it off. Even now I find music stressing. My head spins, my heart starts beating fast and I have to get away whenever I hear music anywhere. I can’t watch a film, documentary or TV programme with music in, I’ve never had a radio or music system and I’ve never found any sort of music a pleasure, yet I seem to be in a very small minority.

    • Virginia Hughes
      April 11, 2013

      interesting! I’m not sure — I’ll ask the researchers what they think and get back to you.

  4. Swift Loris
    April 12, 2013

    I concur with Mr. Martinez, except I’d go further: If I love a piece of music the first time I hear it, my appreciation for it isn’t likely to last very long. My favorite pieces of music are those I’ve had to listen to several times before they began to really appeal to me. (I listen mostly to classical music; not sure if that makes a difference.)

  5. Preston Garrison
    April 12, 2013

    Andrew, look up amusia. Sounds like you might have the congenital form. About 4% of people do. I belief it results from a defect in fine pitch processing.

  6. Doodle
    April 12, 2013

    I feel that this is somehow slightly misdirected. The question of why we find music so pleasurable is surely mysterious and interesting primarily at the level of ultimate causes. As you say: “Nobody really understands why listening to music — which, unlike sex or food, has no intrinsic value — can trigger such profoundly rewarding experiences.” The contrast with food and sex points to where the mystery is: there’s no obvious fitness-benefits to sitting around and listening to music. So how did this preference evolve? Was there some selective advantage to liking music? Or is it a spandrel? Understanding of the associate neurophysiology seems secondary to the really interesting question in this domain – and it doesn’t seem to throw much light on it, unless I’ve failed to read between the lines.

    • Virginia Hughes
      April 12, 2013

      I think you’re right, Doodle. There are lots of evolutionary theories about music. Some say it’s just an evolutionary byproduct — “evolutionary cheesecake,” in Pinker’s words — but others think it evolved for a reason. I wrote a bit about this at the end of this post: http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2012/12/18/why-does-music-move-us-so/. Thanks for reading!

  7. Trained Observer
    April 12, 2013

    I strongly felt the same sense of euphoria with Brahms’s violin singing its song. I hope some of “the questions for future stories” ARE probed and more articles are written about this topic. I cannot read or play a note, but I was the footballer that wanted to hear the “e pluribus unum” coming from the marching band at halftime, the father that gets a charge when his family is in the car and “Bohemian Rhapsody” comes on the radio, and the man that can feel the pain in Nick Drake’s “Black Eyed Dog.” Thanks for an interesting article! And thanks to Doodle for leading me to an understanding of the spandrel.

  8. Bita Safipour
    April 12, 2013

    I really liked this research and enjoyed with the hungarian dance no.5 ,, and searched the other versions of the song in youtube. thanks.

  9. reza mahtab
    April 13, 2013

    Interesting. Enjoyable article.

  10. Jorge Ruiz
    April 13, 2013

    I´ve always wondered why music can change my mood. the fact is, when things go bad, a piece of good music played loud can make me feel that everything is alright, that the whole world is wonderfull and i´m lucky to be alive. music is, to me, the very reason to live and breathe

  11. don Wilhelm
    April 13, 2013

    I’m fascinated by this…I know that the 70′s music of James Taylor, Paul Simon, Carole King put me in a most pleasant state…perhaps all linked to the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex…as a writer, when that said music is on, I’m in the “zone,” so relaxed and focused, as if time stands still. Are the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta waves connected to all of this in some fashion? wow, thanks for your study, d.w.

  12. Jon
    April 14, 2013

    Great article. I often thought I was a bit of an oddball in that I derived so much enjoyment from listening to music. Most of my friends and family can’t understand how I can just sit and do nothing with just a good set of headphones and enjoy listening to music. I wonder if there is some genetics involved as well. As my daughter has reached her teenage years she behaves in much the same way even though her mother shares none of the traits with her and I.

    Andrew, I sincerely feel sorry for you. It would be like missing one of the senses to not enjoy music.

  13. Karen
    April 14, 2013

    I would actually like to take exception to the statement that animals don’t respond pleasurably to music. David Attenborough did a series that compared human responses to music to the reasons birds sing (I can’t remember if it was for Nature or Nova when it was broadcast in the U.S.).

    In it, he discussed several studies of the way both human and avian brains displayed similar patterns of response to music. In the case of birds, there was conclusive evidence that birdsong has both a strong communicative element and is an essential part, in many species, of an individual bird’s success in finding a mate, with there being a direct correlation between a songbird’s ability to take a known pattern and improvise variations on that pattern. Birds that created the most complex patterns were the first to find mates. He then went on to discuss the human phenomenon of musicians often being highly prized as sexual partners.

    In other words, the fact that music stimulates the same part of the brain that controls the experience of pleasure from sex is probably not a random evolutionary commonplace.

    N.B. I’ve also had cats and dogs respond quite obviously to music. My present cat, for instance, can be immediately calmed from bouts of excessive rough-housing by playing the Kiri te Kanawa version of Vocalise by Rachmaninoff. I’ve also experienced the movie cliche of the dog who starts “singing along” to music, or starts howling when someone is singing off pitch. Perhaps, rather than dismissing animals as incapable of enjoying music, the researchers could expand the validity of their findings by studying the literature for studies of how animals do in fact respond (I’ve even seen documentation of anecdotal evidence that retired performing circus bears and elephants can be lifted from behavior that seems to fit with depression by installing a radio in their pens and playing music to which they had been trained to perform, which would might be assumed to correspond to the same brain center being associated with the expectation of the pleasure of a food reward).

  14. Art
    April 14, 2013

    Which recording of Hungarian Dance # 5 is that? I wold like to get that exact recording. Thanks, Art

  15. Karen
    April 14, 2013

    Okay, I’ve found the citation for the Attenborough piece. In the U.S., it was entitled, “Song of the Earth with David Attenborough.” From PBS’s Nature Website:

    “Some birds make sounds that are musical to our ears. Consider the skylark, whose melodious sounds we label as song. So it’s quite natural to wonder whether there is a connection between animal sounds and the music that humans create. The deepest mystery of all: What purpose does music serve? Famed naturalist Sir David Attenborough examines various exotic members of the animal kingdom for clues to this fascinating puzzle.

    After laying out for the audience the complex structures that transform sound into music — musical phrases, melodies, themes, and variations — Sir David introduces us to the animal acknowledged to produce the most complicated and longest song yet discovered — the humpback whale. With Cornell University researcher Katy Payne as his guide, he eavesdrops on these gigantic mammals through a hydrophone dropped into the Dominican Republic’s Samana Bay, where the whales congregate during the winter months.

    From the Caribbean, the documentary hopscotches to various points on the globe to show viewers a diverse array of animals that make music: to Australia, for the lyre bird; Sumatra, for the Siamang gibbon; and Sweden, for the great weed warbler.”

    So, though he’s a generalist, the program does introduce specialists whose published works might be highly relevant to broadening the significance of Salimpoor and Zatorre’s findings.

  16. GIll
    April 14, 2013

    Could the evolution of human musicality have a connection with the “aquatic ape” theory, I wonder. Long distance, underwater communication in whales and some other cetaceans has much in common with music. If our ancestors did spend time as aquatic mammals, as the aquatic ape theory suggests, then singing (or more accurately, humming) would have been immensely useful. I think low notes travel further and if this is so then various pitches would have been used for greater and lesser distances. Also, the acoustic quality of the sound produced by singing would have allowed perception of nearby large objects such as cliff faces, and also the shallowness of the water. Music, or singing at least, would have massive survival benefit in this scenario.

  17. Shraddha
    April 14, 2013

    So how does it work for people who are (proclaim to be) tone-deaf: http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v14/n2/full/nn.2726.html

    Being tone-deaf is a said outcome of disconnection between the posterior superior temporal gyrus and the posterior inferior frontal gyrus. How does it affect dopamine secretion?

    Also, which are reliable papers to understand tone-deafness?

  18. Jesus Medina
    April 15, 2013

    Wow Virginia, I´m totally amazed, i´ve been asking myself that very question since i was at college and deduced somehow that it had something to do with positive previous experiences. And today i was just playing Hung. Dance #5 (remembering Chaplin’s barber scene at “the great dictator”) and, surfing the web hours later, unexpectedly got to your article. I wonder, can we heal with music? of course we make someone feel better, but, can we improve the way the body responds to an illness with music, can we use music, as laugh, to improve our inmunologic system, can we create, or find, a piece of music that heals a person because of the mental connections he or she has made (using the “predictable” likeness of a song of a determined person)?, or it is already done, or it is on his way to be done? I reckon I have to make more research on my own but if you would answer some of this questions I´d appreciate it very much. Thank you for your attention.

  19. Ulises
    April 15, 2013

    Not only, as already commented, doubt that animals music doesn’t move animals, but I wanted to remember that we are animals.

    So please next time non-human animals.

  20. Josh
    April 15, 2013

    This is definitely an interesting topic, and one that I hadn’t even thought about until now. Most of the time before I read any sort of science article, I try to think of someway to explain the topic just from my overall general knowledge. This one has by far stumped me the most.

    The only thing I could really come up with why music feels so good, is when I compared our sense of hearing to the other senses. Every other sense we have can produce feel good moments. When we see something beautiful we feel good, taste something delicious we feel good, etc. etc.. So why wouldn’t hearing have that same thing.

    I think our sight pleasure centers probably have more in common with hearing and music, just because it in itself doesn’t really have the same benefits as you mentioned with eating, or engaging in sex.

    My other thought on just where music may have evolved from, I think is pretty simple. Someone at some point hit something and it made a noise that was pleasing to the ears. Then eventually they continued to hit it and created rhythm. Then from there they eventually found other pitches by hitting other things and so on.

    Anyway great article and can’t wait to read further down the line and see where this research takes us.

  21. James
    April 15, 2013

    Maybe for further study you could try to find why people like the music they like in the first place. I first started enjoying music when listened to rap and hip-hop during elementary school, then Heavy metal and now just about anything as long as its “good”.

  22. Mark Kuss
    April 15, 2013

    I wonder if the pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered have a deeply rooted social component. Music is a social activity. The areas of the brain
    that are responding to music represent areas of the brain associated with elements of communal safety. Our tendency as a species to create hiearchical social dynamics are replicated in the technical workings of music of all types and across cultures. We perceive the constituent elements of music in a shifting matrix–and our psychological response is affected by the shifts in this matrix.
    Your description of the Brahms Hungarian Rhapsody left out the sense of safety and power that comes from many working in common to a shared end.

  23. Jordan Moore
    April 15, 2013

    Fascinating! I wonder happens when you/your brain grows tired of a piece of music. Is this reflected in the amount of dopamine released? And is there a scientific explanation as to why we grow tired of tracks and what happens when we get bored of a song and return to it years later and experience similar dopamine highs?

    This is excellent stuff!

  24. beans
    April 15, 2013

    Perhaps the pleasure comes from the implied bonding/kinship associated with music; When I listen to a song by my favorite band, I feel a sense of familiarity with the members even though I’ve never met them. A similar phenomenon can be observed with television, namely sitcoms and soap operas. As a remnant of tribal bonding, it’d make sense that familiar music has the largest effect, while new music would imply new tribal members and would also have a nice effect.

  25. Michael Kysar
    April 15, 2013

    The amygdala and hippocampus are part of the Limbic System, or the “Lizard Brain”, which represent brain structures that humans share to a great extent with most vertebrate animals. Researchers, please follow up on this hypothesis that pre-humans first evolved dance as a way to communicate, then evolved into singing with their dancing. And then most importantly, this musical evolution of dance and singing was essential to humans evolving language.

    Years ago, I was watching PBS where some researchers were trying to upright a stone obelisk using the same engineering methods of the ancient Egyptians. They came close, but couldn’t get their “slaves” to effectively pull the long ropes. I believe the reason was that they weren’t singing and dancing in unison. Without music, the pyramids could not have been built.

    Asking which specific recording of the Brahms Hungarian Dances No. 5, implies the knowledge that it isn’t just the music, but also how it is performed that speaks to us, creating subtle, yet significant and intriguing, differences in the sparks within our brains. This is why live music is best: it provides the most possibility for surprise and delight when it fills our templates and challenges our expectations.

    A week ago, I heard a 16-year-old boy play Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto No. 5 with a piano accompaniment. Not only was the live performance riveting, the music ricocheted through my dreams all that night, and I woke up with Beethoven on my mind, forcing me to seek out Rubenstein playing the Emperor Concerto on YouTube… four times that morning. I feel much better now.

  26. Zac Shaw
    April 15, 2013

    The “audio cheesecake” theory of music has been discredited, disappointing to see so much attention given to this antiquated theory. Music has a clear evolutionary purpose: to draw humans together in social bonding through shared experience. Any suggestion it has “no intrinsic value” is ludicrous. We as a culture and society focus on music as entertainment — certainly this is how we view food and sex as well in modern times. But to say music is for entertainment is like saying food is for deliciousness or sex is for orgasm.

  27. Josh Burbrink
    April 15, 2013

    I’m also curious to hear your thoughts on ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response). Music, words, smells, ect can trigger. I wonder how related your research would be to this .

  28. Matt Winn
    April 15, 2013

    One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.

  29. prekaxl 87 rose
    April 15, 2013

    true man, i personally feel that ROCK has the power to just bring that hidden enery outta you and then you are a mean machine who can do anything…gn’r and metallica..FOREVER!!

  30. Curtis Humes
    April 15, 2013

    Interesting research, though it’s already been explored. In his book, “This is Your Brain on Music,” Daniel Levitin explores this phenomena.

  31. Koko
    April 15, 2013

    This very question, why does music make me feel so good, runs through my brain just about every day. I have a 40-minute commute to work, which I don’t mind because I can listen to my music on the drive there and back. It’s a form of therapy – it fills me with such a profound, wonderful feeling, as if I could do anything! I grew up with music thanks to my dad. I remember, as a child, my dad had a recording room where he recorded songs off the radio, onto a tape. He’d do that almost all night, most days of the week. On the rare occasions he wouldn’t, I remember asking him to please turn some music on so that I could go to sleep. Jump ahead 30 years, and my love for music has only grown. (though, my tastes certainly have changed).

    When I was 19, I visited my big brother who, at the time, was stationed in Hawaii, serving in the Marines (he was also a music-head and aspiring DJ). He was on leave, so I flew out to Hawaii and stayed with him and his girlfriend for a week. While there, he introduced me to a form of electronic music called “happy hardcore” (it has since evolved into simply “hardcore”). As soon as he put that cd on (he said to me before he played it, “I think you’ll like this”), I practically FELT myself fall in love with the sounds. Boy oh boy, that was it! It was like a new door in my brain opened, and I fell instantly in love with this fast, upbeat, vocal, electronic music! While I have heard electronic music before (albeit very little), it didn’t “strike” me like THIS did. At the time he introduced me to happy hardcore, I was pretty heavy into grunge bands (Pearl Jam, Nirvana, etc.).

    Needless to say, as soon as I returned home, I went to the music store and bought both happy hardcore cds that were already out by that producer. And I’ve never looked back since. My love for electronic music (especially hardcore) has grown so deeply that it’s almost undescribable. I also had the most amazing synchronicity happen with hardcore music; A couple years ago, my husband and I were visiting my dad. For over 20 years, my dad worked in construction, building beautiful decks of all sizes, fences, gazebos, and a couple of houses throughout the country. I wanted to show my husband photos of some of the decks my dad helped build, so I got the box my dad had of various photos, old letters from me, birthday cards (my dad & mom were divorced when I was a child, so my dad and I wrote each other letters and sent cards throughout the years and thankfully, he saved all of it!). I was digging thru the box and came across an old birthday card I sent my dad when I was probably around 18 years old (I’m 35 now). It was a funny Italian card (we are Italian) that told a story of an Italian guy who kept getting misunderstood because of his heavy accent. Thankfully, I chose to read this entire card aloud to my dad and husband (cause I thought it was so funny). I’m VERY glad I made the decision to read it aloud, as it comes into play later that day.

    Now, flash forward about three hours, same day. My husband and I were home, and I was doing a quick listen to the new hardcore cds I had gotten earlier that day (I have to order most of my music from the United Kingdom, so it comes in the mail), and low and behold, I come across a track called “Pizzaman” and I remember thinking, “What the heck is THAT song going to sound like?” When I started listening to it, I couldn’t believe my ears! The “vocals” (really, it was an Italian-sounding guy talking) told THE EXACT SAME STORY on the birthday card I sent to my dad almost two decades prior! Had I not read the card aloud earlier that day to my dad and husband, this wouldn’t have had such an astonishing impact. I turned up the volume on my laptop, turned to my husband and said, “Listen to this!” He couldn’t believe it. Word for word, it was EXACTLY what I read just a few hours earlier that day from a birthday card I sent to my dad almost 20 years ago! I even called my dad and put the phone up to my computer speaker so he could hear it. He thought it was “very cool!”

    I don’t know WHY that happened, but I tend to look at it as a sort of confirmation of how deeply my love and connection goes for this music, and I accept it for what I believe it to be.

    There is one thing I am truly and whole-heartedly addicted to, and that is music. I feel most like myself whenever I’m listening to music. It’s almost like my super cape I put on. :) I NEED music.

  32. Pliska
    April 15, 2013

    I’m willing to bet any animal with a conscious filter to their subconscious enjoys music. I bet Dolphins and Orcas love it as well. However, the premise of music not being intrinsic is wrong. Why disregard the conscious like that? I mean, it IS what separate humans, dolphins and orcas from the rest of the animals who don’t have this subjectively created filter. Read “the Biology of Belief”, you’ll get it.

  33. Tonton Macoute
    April 15, 2013

    Just to be technical and clear: A “song” has a singer and usually words (lyrics). There are exceptions, but generally this holds. The Brahms would be called “a work,” “a piece,” or “a composition.”

  34. Mike
    April 15, 2013

    With me at least, the feelings seem to closely mirror romantic experiences.

    New songs, as long as they have familiar attributes, feel fresh and exciting; not being satiated from it even after hearing it a few times. We even seek reinforcement from friends by wanting them to find a new song as interesting as we do. The infatuation could last a few days, weeks or months. However, after a while, you want to move on.

    Songs you have not heard in years are fun to experience again, nostalgic, bring back good memories and the familiarity is comfortable. Like old friends, good to hook-up with for a bit but you’ll certainly won’t get the same rush as you do from something new.

    Perhaps the dopamine rush is helpful in the formation of new memories and when experiencing something we’d like to remember, our brain gives us that nice boost.

  35. Ralph Seiler
    April 15, 2013

    Hooray for brain research, as Woody Allen said it’s my second favorite organ. Lots of songs affect my mood, but one song snaps me back to an almost eidetic memory of a pupuseria in El Salvador. Even though it is over 30 years ago that I was in the Peace Corps, I see the posters on the wall, the jukebox playing the song (Bonnie Tyler’s It’s a Heartache), the other people. Nice article.

  36. Jim
    April 15, 2013

    I’m very glad you found your calling, and even more happy that it’s studying ourselves!

    My personal belief (which is usually wrong, but oh well) as to why we evolved a sense of rhythm is due to muscle memory. Whenever I learn a new skill, be it drumming, boxing, walking, shifting, etc., there is a time delineated pattern that I always end up following. I can see how this would have given a group of early humans an edge of others, by being able to repeat certain actions consistently and accurately.

  37. Carmon
    April 15, 2013

    Fascinating! I just started reading Oliver Sacks’ book _Musicophilia_ which explores music’s effect on the brain. I’m commenting so I can read any more comments :-).

  38. Ron
    April 15, 2013

    I grew up listening to pop music of the seventies, mostly, as well as some jazz and classical. I find myself bored to tears by modern four chord pop songs with absolutely no variety. The music I grew up on (by, say, Jimmy Webb, Billy Joel, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Beatles) had an element of uncertainty. All songs had a “hook” that was interesting and attention getting, as well as a middle “bridge” section, which could be in a new key altogether. Predictability is unsatisfying, yet millions don’t seem to care any more, unfortunately…

  39. Jacob
    April 16, 2013

    Interesting read with respect to brain function. What I would like to know is why did this brain function develop? What are the benefits? I assume there must be benefits for it to have evolved.

  40. Jonathan
    April 16, 2013

    animals do heavily respond to music. You should see the documentary here http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0373861/ it’s a story about a camel mother not accepting her child until listening to some special music by a mongolian singer… that’s just one example proving that also animals respond to music.

  41. Armen Shaomian, DMA
    April 16, 2013

    Great article, but please..the Hungarian Rhapsody is not a song. It is a piece. Big difference.

  42. icnlwoyr
    April 16, 2013

    in fact we can not do without music

  43. Jorge F
    April 17, 2013

    Very interesting. So a few years ago I was listening to a program in Radio Lab about speech. The program basically asserted that when we speak there is a rhythm and intonation to our natural speech pattern that is like singing. They took ordinary speech and looped it. Amazingly, you would swear the person is singing. This is particularly pronouced when a mother talks to an infant. The claim is that this is paramount to learning. So maybe our deep emotional connection with music and rhythm is that it puts us in a mood reminiscent of our days as infants; bliss and care free …

  44. Marjorie
    April 17, 2013

    I cannot hear some popular music without wanting to get up and dance, or if just in comany my foot has to tap! On top of this I can only stand just so much of lovely classical music before I have to turn it off because it makes me so depressed and just cry.. Why does music make some people sad and depressed and others are really comforted. Opposites? Why can some music in shops make you feel happy, inspired, etc., and other “music” makes you want to just get out as quickly as possible. I definitely think birds enjoy the lovely sounds they make, particularly blackbirds, you can hear them just enjoying and respond if you try to imitate. It cannot just be territorial. Another thing – why on earth do we get a tune fixed in our mind, played over and over, sometimes for days and you cannot get rid of it. Sometimes the cure is when you hear another piece of music which takes it place? All this discussion on music is really really fascinating and lots of people find it really interesting but not much written about it.

    • Michael Kysar
      April 17, 2013

      When you tap your feet or sway in response to music, your brain is dancing. We are hard-wired for dancing. My children danced before they could walk, as did most of us. I believe that we evolved dancing and singing as a requisite to our evolving language, but I’m still looking for scientific confirmation. Also, research indicates that people who dance regularly live longer and happier lives.

      As to getting depressed from listening to classical music, I suggest you be more selective, and turn up the volume to get all the color. With a few exceptions, classical music was not meant to be heard as background music. Low volume is like listening in black and white with gray shading. Almost all Baroque music is based on dance forms, and when properly performed, it will compel you to dance with it. A great example is Bach’s 2nd Brandenburg Concerto. The third movement is probably the happiest music on the planet. To get the most from the second movement, walk around the room swaying with your arms spread wide. More music: Get a recording of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture that includes a full choir on the opening chorale, and has had the cannons and the bells of St. Basil’s digitally added to the ending (make sure you have good speakers though, and don’t listen with earphones–you could hurt yourself).

      The tunes we get fixed into our mind: Oliver Sacks explains it very well in “Musicophilia”. Fun reading about music and the brain: “This is Your Brain on Music” by Daniel J. Levitin.

  45. samdemic
    April 22, 2013

    One particular piece does this thing to me… You will be a woman soon- Urge Overkill.
    Interesting to see the profound effect classical music has on people’s brains.

  46. Charles Rogers
    April 25, 2013

    Agree

  47. David Simon Starobin
    April 25, 2013

    This discussion brought me to thinking about playing music; not just listening. And the similar processes involved. Not just learning to play, say, a Mozart French horn concerto, but improvising a bass line in a rock band.

  48. Luis V
    April 25, 2013

    I am 66. Music has always been an integral part of my life. When I was 6, I was exposed to Italian, French, Caribbean and Classical music. My parents encouraged me to listen to all kinds of music. Later on, at around 10, I heard Little Richard’s “Lucille” and Benny Goodman’s late 30s live concert at Carnegie Hall. I have close to 16,000 pieces of music in my I-tunes which I add on to every week. I can be listening to a Classical piece one moment, then switch to Steven Reich or Phillip Glass, RAI music from North Africa from North Africa, Mumford and Sons or John Coltrane. My most vivid musical memory was a movie I saw at the age of 9. The main character was a violinist whose most popular piece was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. The film was awful, but to this day, I have 10 different recordings by different artists. I can hum every single note. By the way, I am an amateur drummer and my taste goes from ACDC to Alex Van Halen…….Weird?

  49. Evan
    April 25, 2013

    If you are interested in this article you should read “This is Your Brain Music” by Daniel J. Levitin

  50. Betty Dabney
    April 25, 2013

    I believe that music connects with us so profoundly because it taps in at a fundamental level to the harmonics of the universe. Superstring theory of modern physics is based on harmonics. Music, then, literally plugs us into the divine universal experience which is beyond the capacity of words to express.

  51. Clownfish
    April 25, 2013

    What about birds? Would it be possible that singing/whistling birds have a similar make up?

  52. MANISH PARASHAR
    April 25, 2013

    Reasons enough why we should never judge a particular genre to be inferior or superior; each has the potency to stimulate and inspire.
    This article has material enough for record companies & artistes to make algorithms on what kind of music they want to dole out to the public.

  53. Rachael
    April 25, 2013

    I come from a psychology background but i am also a musician. I have always found music fundamentally healing and mood-altering, especially when I am composing music myself. Playing music myself is highly therapeutic and intrinsically rewarding, as I have always used my piano as an “escape”. Everyone can relate (to some degree) to the transformative power of music thus it is easy to see the potential for music as a medium for healing. The sooner we unlock this potential, the better off we will be. Having said that, music therapists are already commonplace in hospitals as are music therapy program’s such as DrumBeat in Australian schools, but what worries me is the lack of evidence-based practice and research driving such therapies and program’s… It seems to be largely based on what we know to be intuitively or anecdotally true and not based (enough) on hard and fast empirical research.
    On a different note, it always amuses me how lovers of classical music preach various pieces and works like christians preach scripture! I would challenge you to listen for the colours, tones, and heart skipping drops of DubStep in the same spirit of that which you listen to classical and just see what happens. Ha ha!

  54. Irma
    April 25, 2013

    I have to have music in my life, it gives me a special inner peace weather it be classic, opera, jazz, Latin (mariachi, latin jazz, salsa, merengue, old romantic boleros in Spanish), oldies, classic rock, it all has this special power that brings peace and joy to me. I can listen to music all the time I am awake (sometimes music soothes me to the point of taking a nap) makes my heart joyful, brings back those special memories…

  55. Alan Chalcraft
    April 25, 2013

    My wife and I run a choir in the UK. The difference between the members’ moods when they arrive for a session and when they leave is remarkable. Power of music? or power of group activity? Either way, music heals and stimulates all at the same time

  56. Janet Perry
    April 25, 2013

    It’s an interesting study, but anyone who is an accomplished musician is not surprised by this. In fact, an important factor has not been included: If you play the music yourself, on an instrument you have studied or by singing, this is the greatest experience of euphoria, not to compare with just listening and consuming. It doesn’t seem to matter if it comes out perfect, it’s an exhilarating and fulfilling experience whether practicing alone or with others, as in chamber music.

  57. Carolyn McCleskey
    April 25, 2013

    Non human animals do sometimes show they are affected by music. A very loved former cat pet would immediately walk into the room when Bach or sometimes Scott Joplin was played on the piano, and sit by the piano, on the floor, listening attentively until the piece was ended, no matter how long.
    She never showed an affinity for rock, or other popular music, only classical piano.

  58. MOLLY LORD
    April 25, 2013

    A scientist I’m not. So I am grateful to all who are and who see the value in unraveling this dance music does in our brains. Though I don’t sing or play an instrument, my fascination with music’s impact on my life and those around me pulled me from being a mediator for the District Attorney Office to facilitating Jungian-based Music & Archetype Workshops! YIkes! My clients are mostly cancer survivors, oncology staff, educators, the US Air Force airmen/woman and their spouses, and just the everyday music enthusiasts.

    With Joseph Campbell’s work as my foundation, my angle is to support a wildly fun and deeply insightful exploration into people’s personal Hero’s Journey and the value gained at each juncture of that journey – all using the magic of music- from Bach to Rock!

    What I want to share in this post is what my laywoman’s research has revealed about why certain music appeals to us at certain times…why and how it crawls into the folds of our psyches to start rearranging our thoughts, attitudes, perspective and therefore, our moods, behaviors and chemical reactions in our bodies. It revealed why someone can say certain words to us, or display a certain attitude, and we meet them with resistance, judgement or apathy. But let those same words, or essence of the words, come through in the form of a song (lyrics or not) and we suddenly are able to feel to our very core the emotions and meaning of the message that we missed before.(because we were in our heads, not our hearts) Scientists such as yourselves delve deep to find the physical intricacies of the answer. And I need that info as well. But I found the “intangible soul answer” in Joseph Campbell’s wise statement:

    “The first function of the arts is to transport the mind past the (ego’s) two guardians – DESIRE & FEAR – of the paradisal gates.”

    Interpretation: We have 2 mind gatekeepers standing guard at the gates of what it is we feel will bring us RELIEF in our lives. These gatekeepers of Desire and Fear (our ego) will block our actions, judge, and often deny access to the relief we seek because it fears harm or disruption will come of it. For example, your inner Explorer or Creator Archetype may decide the time has come to take the leap and leave your current job that’s sucking you dry and to finally follow your passion and start your own business of making and selling very unique widgets. Just the thought of it gives you goosebumps and lights up your spirit. Yup! Relief (paradise) is right around the corner! However, enter stage left, your ego’s FEAR gatekeeper. It will likely insert into your thoughts,”What??? Quit your job? Are you serious? Be responsible! This job provides security and you’re on track for a great retirement. You’ll look pretty darn foolish if this crazy idea of yours doesn’t work….”

    We too often listen to this “voice of reason” while it sets out to sabotage our stepping into our dreams (paradise)

    HOWEVER, if you were to push PLAY on your favorite high energy tune that kicks into gear your “I can do ANYTHING I put my mind to – just TRY and stop me!” mindset – the song can help transport you past the gatekeeper that’s blocking forward motion through the gates of carrying out this call to adventure! Your wise Archetype says “I know what I need to do.” The music says, “I know how to get this idea through and kick your Warrior archetype butt into gear…” (my “Warrior-shut-up-fear-gatekeeper” song is Barbara Streisand’s, “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”) I put that on before every tough meeting… when others think I’ve taken on too big a vision.. or my doubting inner critic doing a number on me.

    So, there you go. Another soft theory for you wonderful scientists to chew on. You can’t measure it. You can only see the nodding heads of the hundreds I’ve worked with and who exclaim “YES! That’s exactly what happens! Music quiets the nagging voice,changes my tune, and drops me into the feeling of relief!”

    Now, go find YOUR Warrior Archetype song and take on that one thing you’ve been shying from!

    my website: http://www.mollylord.com
    It will be music to your ears.:)

  59. Paul Celauro
    April 25, 2013

    Virginia – phenomenal article – truly a gift – how did you know?!! Just read this 1/2 hr ago – thinking about this VERY phenomenon just yesterday and over this past month, have just settled into a 6 month working early retirement in which I’ll finally get my second inspirational book “Quantum Entanglement” done. I’ve been working out every day in my apt’s gym – cycle, some light iron, etc. Been playing relatively famous live concert albums – from some of the masters of my day – Chicago, Billy Joel, Moody Blues, Beach Boys, Santana etc – with full headphones as I work out. Cannot begin to describe the way I get through that workout without even thinking about the ‘burn’. What all these albums have in common is – only recorded concert material, not the studio versions, and most if not all songs written by the performing artist themselves, relatively positive belief systems and messages, all of these with great Classical underpinnings – its like fresh, farm raised food compared to canned. The above artists and some others long ago inspired me to take up guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals myself – have played in some contemporary church bands over the decades – talk about a taste of Heaven. We all got high at band practice on performing it our way!
    Plainly put, I think music is a continual gift straight from God.
    Thank you again, I may try to reach you – definitely want to talk about this in the book.
    Thank you again for the gift to my heart -
    Best wishes

  60. Nivrip
    April 25, 2013

    I always felt that we developed a liking for music from our time in the womb. Lying there, protected, in a warm fluid with everything provided we could hear the beat, or rhythm, of our mother’s heartbeat. It’s no surprise then, that after birth, we have some connection with rhythm and that is what music is, basically.

  61. Chris I.
    April 25, 2013

    I saw a documentary about monkey troop behaviour where they would call in unison or scream in a synchronized way so as to appear larger to opposing troops or to predators in order to scare them off either as a predation threat or from encroaching on their territory / tree. The more synchronized and harmonious their calls then the more difficulty the opposition would have in determining their group number and individual physical size, correct? This synchronized group calling would be the origin of music for our particular primate species. The joy we get in hearing music is the joy of group belonging, of being in synch with a community, of being safe. The particular associations we have with particular pieces of music layer further emotional associations over those powerful early musical structures in the brain. As for novelty seeking in music, and the pleasure that we get in noticing and following interpretations of tunes, this would genetically be selected for in that an individual seeking to remain coordinated musically within the group – for the group and the individual’s benefit – would then want to listen for the anticipated chord changes, harmonies etc so that they could remain “on key”, “in tune” or, in animal behavioural parlance – congruent with the group.

  62. Doug W
    April 25, 2013

    At 30 years old i loved lots of rock and music in general but never listened to “Electronic/Techno”. Some friends introduced me to it and while interesting, i never “got it”. Then, at their suggestion, I tried MDMA/Ecstacy with them. After 30-45 minutes, it kicked in and for the first time I saw and felt the music like it was 3D and in color when I had only had black& white until then. The moods and feelings that it gave me were extraordinary and unlike anything before. After many more sessions like that one, I now have that awareness of music even without the MDMA and count that expansion of my music perception as a great day in my life. My contention is that the MDMA enabled some linking of the brain’s music centers and over time I hard wired them.

  63. Sara
    April 25, 2013

    THis is really interesting and important research.
    My father’s only “hobby” was listening to classical music which gave him exquisite pleasure though he was tone deaf. However ,as he neared the end of his life in his mid eighties he was unable to bear listening. I wonder if this was related to the “work” the brain has to do when receiving this pleasure? So sad to lose the only real pleasure in life other than family and chocolate!
    I find that classical music can fell very similar to sexual pleasure but it is very dependent on who is interpreting the music.
    I have wondered whether it is related to the mathematical aspects that seem to control all of nature. If the music somehow stimulates a sense of supreme order , could that enhance the pleasure?

  64. Ron Davies
    April 25, 2013

    Music is just an incredible high. And the more kinds of music you appreciate–and especially do yourself–, the happier you are. We who grew up in the 50s and 60s are so lucky to have such great pop music as kids. And on top of that I love lots of classical–listening to the Beethoven “Spring” Sonata as I write this. All the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies–and a huge list of other classical– are old friends. Sang a concert of Hindemith, Brahms and Gabrieli a few weeks ago. Will sing a Broadway concert in about 2 weeks. Sang 4 hours of doo-wop last Saturday–with just a bunch of people who wanted to do it.
    Learning a great song by Ry Cooder to sing, along with “Pistol Packin’ Mama” (in honor of the US Senate’s refusal to deal with the gun issue) at my mother’s retirement community in a few weeks. Sang a rap song—about cicadas–recently. Love sea songs, western swing, klezmir, shape-note singing, Irish, country and bluegrass, drinking songs–including opera drinking songs, reggae, calypso, etc., etc.
    My head is always full of music. If you love music–and look for humor everywhere–you have it made.

  65. Sonny Lim
    April 26, 2013

    I have always loved music from the age of 7 years. My mother plays the piano and Uncle the violin. My Father never spared the expenses both financially and socially to encourage me in the appreciation of musical recordings and composition. I finally pursued my career in electro-acoustics in improving analogue and digital reproduction of recorded music. I further my technical career in the pursuit of psycho-acoustic which not only conveys the audio information to listeners but improve their auditory perception and intelligibility on instrument and the human voice. I am now lecturing at the National University of Singapore on the same topics and enjoying every minute of it. I still enjoy music both recorded and live in the evening which is good for the mind and soul.

  66. Samuel Orukpe
    April 26, 2013

    The core of our being is spirit. Our brain is only an earthly tool. Music, like all that is human can in truth be a thing of the heart, of the intuition, the voice of the spirit. If we were to rely solely on our brain we would just be “a sounding brass or tinkling cymbal” without warmth, without life ….. nothing! Remember your first love!

  67. ken bassey
    April 26, 2013

    wow interesting article…well done

  68. Olga
    April 26, 2013

    “Why did my sister and I have such drastically different musical tastes growing up, even though our exposures were pretty much the same?”
    This is a great question. I would assume that your exposures were not entirely the same after all… It would be great to know about the whole multitude of influences that shape our music taste.
    Also, music preferences may change. People often switch between drastically different styles of music as they age. How do experiences and exposure influence that?

  69. Ian G. King
    April 26, 2013

    Fascinating article, I love many types of music- from jazz to bagpipes, to classical, and on thru rock and popular. At age 70, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (now 8 years ago) and, while I have never discussed this with anyone – I have firm beliefs in the power of music to augment (and even heal) the process of medications that I take daily to cope with PD. I’m listening to Beethoven’s Leonora overture on a headset (George Szell the Cleveland symphony), love the 3rd Leonora even more. Find myself going back to the era of 50′s jazz – for Brubeck & Paul Desmond , Ahmad Jamal’s “Poinciana” as well as numerous other pieces that, indeed, give me great pleasure. I would like to hear more on this subject in particular with regard to PD.

  70. D Cruise
    April 27, 2013

    I read in a book a few years ago that music effects fluid. When certain notes were played, it caused water to bubble and other fluids to coagulate. I think therefore music reacts with your bloodstream…..

  71. Angel
    April 28, 2013

    You know, I always wondered just what it was… the nerd in me always likes a scientific explanation for everything, but music=emotions; whether happy or sad, or anything else, the minute a meaningful song comes on, there you are right back with the same smells, memories, feelings of another time when you heard that song before. Man, we are amazing aren’t we?! Not just to have this ability, but to be able to understand why as well. I always play music, I always sing loud and horribly and smile huge while I’m doing it, even if the music is in my ear buds and I’m riding my bike :)

  72. artdecade
    April 28, 2013

    Interesting, I’ve always wondered why we connect so strongly to music whereas speech and language seem less primal. How we connect more to someone singing and the music created rather than speaking. I’d assume primitive ancestor’s communicated by what we today understand as music, and words and speech evolved much later.

  73. Lance Marafiote
    April 30, 2013

    What does it mean if I have pretty much written off music altogether? I have a pretty good collection of recorded music ranging from the classics to heavy metal; vocal and instrumental? I still have scores and lyrics that I wrote many years ago, and a couple of guitars that have collected dust. I like to hear it when it’s present, but I don’t go out of my way like I used to to play what I like. Is there a meaning behind this? (To note, I have had a couple of concussions over the past 15 years. Is there a correlation?)

  74. Yvonne
    May 2, 2013

    I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned this in a comment, but I am currently reading a book that talks about this and it is great. It is called The Power of Music: Pioneering Discoveries in the New Science of Song by Elena Mannes. Anyone who liked this article and would like to know more would definitely like this book!

  75. Steven Swift
    May 3, 2013

    After reading this article it makes sense why I enjoy some music and then get “bored” with some music. As a kid my dad would always play classic rock n’ roll. It reminds me of the summer and pretty sunsets and being with family. In the winter time I don’t enjoy this music as much, but as soon as the weather changes and its hot again the classic rock makes me happy every time I hear it. It brings me back to the memories by the pool and having good times with my family. Now when someone says “I love this song” or “this song puts me in a great mood” I can tell them that they released dopamine, and their nucleus accumbens are now communicating with the superior temporal gyrus, and that’s pulling up memories of when you heard similar music that made you happy. Great article, glad to know that things that I have no idea of finding out are being studied and explained.

  76. HToromoreno
    May 11, 2013

    As an educator struggling with the role that personal electronic devices should have in school, I believe that too many students think that good feeling they have while listening to their favorite music is helping them study. The research shows that’s not necessarily true. Your “focus”, while listening to music, is elsewhere and that can’t be good for learning new material.

  77. Jim
    May 12, 2013

    If music is only human? Why do plants seem to like music and grow better so they say.

  78. Glenn Dixon
    May 17, 2013

    This is a rapidly growing and fascinating field. http://www.tripping-the-world.com/evolutionary_psychology.html

  79. I am not Trinh Do
    May 23, 2013

    Very intriguing indeed. I learned a lot of stuff today and it’s all thanks to Bryan Kujawa. Love you bro.

  80. Ruchir Shah
    June 19, 2013

    I recently interviewed Robert Zatorre about his work on music, emotion, and reward, just in case you were interested. :) Also, great post!

    http://blogs.plos.org/mindthebrain/2013/06/18/mind-the-brain-podcast-episode-02-the-neuroscience-of-music-anticipation-and-reward/

  81. Carlos
    August 26, 2013

    The study is so difficult first of all because music is in many ways associated to taste and unless the person has never listen to music, the study can’t control taste which is acquired. Personally, you would have to pay me to listen to the samples you selected. The Hungarian Dance is as trite as the song Let it be and I am so tired of it. So, good for you if Richard Clayderman or Kenny G floods you with Dopamine. However, how much of that crap is good enough? I am sure Dopamine is not the only benefit. Yeah is affects fluids and moves things…. Come on. Is all in your mind…..PS listen to Keith Jarrett

  82. Photography Tour
    October 26, 2013

    The Hungarian Dance is as trite as the song Let it be and I am so tired of it.

  83. Nikki Ty-Tomkins
    November 8, 2013

    Still mystified by many things. I first heard Mozart ( Ezio Pinza) as a tiny child when my father’s friend put an old 78 on his victrola. Apparently I sat in front of the speakers and held my chest and howled … in ecstacy. My parents had found a way to “dope me into oblivion” while they visited. They’d plunk me down in front of the victrola and put on Mozart. They had NO interest in classical music. I ended up a Juilliard grad specializing in Baroque music. My answer of course is and was “reincarnation”. And I still zone out so totally that I can’t put on headphones or I’d be a menace on the sidewalk or behind the wheel. I experience a high so intense that I can’t function normally.

    The second odd thing is my cat. I acquired her at the Humane Society. Ironically they piped Mozart into the cat quarters because I was told, ” it calms them”. Well this little feline is so addicted to classical music, particularly ZIpoli and Bach, that she springs onto my keyboard when I play even a few opening notes. She hunkers down ( because she knows if she interferes with my fingers, she’ll be banished) and sits there purring with her whole body throbbing, If I play the lower register F major chord ( a royal purple … I also experience synethesthesia ) she completely trances out, with her ears nad body flattened against the keys.

    But my singing … particularly “Ombra Mai Fu” is so bad that she actually walks over and smacks me with her paw. It’s hilarious.

    The other speculation …. the only possible “eternity” is vibration … or sound. Quantum theory says that energy produces matter. And music is vibration or energy. When I play a chord, it vibrates out into the cosmos … and is infinite ( at least as far as the cosmos is concerned).

    Only sound is immortal. And at its most refined it is music. I just love that.

  84. Jane Laws
    November 24, 2013

    What an interesting topic. I wanted to know why I feel so good when I hear “easy listening” music and classical music such as Handel, Vivaldi, Mozart etc. Now I understand a whole lot more. The brain is a fascinating and complex organ which we are only just beginning to understand. I can hear a piece of music, perhaps familiar to me, perhaps not. If I can feel a beat to it and sing or hum along to it, I will be transported to a level of wonderful relaxation that nothing else brings me. I was bought up listening to Handel’s Water Music, I wonder if that is the reason ?

  85. steve barber
    December 1, 2013

    my comment about why music Religous) i enjoy it . i love how soothing it makes me feel.

  86. Bernd Willimek
    December 1, 2013

    Why do Minor Keys sound sad?
    If you want to answer the question, why minor chords sound sad, there is the problem, that some minor chords don’t sound sad. The solution is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says, that music is not able to transmit emotions directly. Music can just convey processes of will, but the music listener fills this processes of will with emotions. Similar, when you watch a dramatic movie in television, the movie cannot transmit emotions directly, but processes of will. The spectator perceives the processes of will dyed with emotions – identifying with the protagonist. When you listen music you identify too, but with an anonymous will now.
    If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will “Yes, I want to…”. If you perceive a minor chord, you identify normally with the will “I don’t want any more…”. If you play the minor chord softly, you connect the will “I don’t want any more…” with a feeling of sadness. If you play the minor chord loudly, you connect the same will with a feeling of rage. You distinguish in the same way as you would distinguish, if someone would say the words “I don’t want anymore…” the first time softly and the second time loudly.
    This operations of will in the music were unknown until the Theory of Musical Equilibration discovered them. And therefore many previous researches in psychology of music failed. If you want more information about music and emotions and get the answer, why music touches us emotionally, you can download the essay “Music and Emotions – Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration” for free. You can get it on the link:
    http://www.willimekmusic.de/music-and-emotions.pdf
    Enjoy reading
    Bernd Willimek

  87. Bernd Willimek
    December 1, 2013

    Why do Minor Keys sound sad?
    If you want to answer the question, why minor chords sound sad, there is the problem, that some minor chords don’t sound sad. The solution is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says, that music is not able to transmit emotions directly. Music can just convey processes of will, but the music listener fills this processes of will with emotions. Similar, when you watch a dramatic movie in television, the movie cannot transmit emotions directly, but processes of will. The spectator perceives the processes of will dyed with emotions – identifying with the protagonist. When you listen music you identify too, but with an anonymous will now.
    If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will “Yes, I want to…”. If you perceive a minor chord, you identify normally with the will “I don’t want any more…”. If you play the minor chord softly, you connect the will “I don’t want any more…” with a feeling of sadness. If you play the minor chord loudly, you connect the same will with a feeling of rage. You distinguish in the same way as you would distinguish, if someone would say the words “I don’t want anymore…” the first time softly and the second time loudly.
    This operations of will in the music were unknown until the Theory of Musical Equilibration discovered them. And therefore many previous researches in psychology of music failed. If you want more information about music and emotions and get the answer, why music touches us emotionally, you can download the essay “Music and Emotions – Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration” for free. You can get it on the link:
    http://www.willimekmusic.de/music-and-emotions.pdf
    Enjoy reading
    Bernd Willimek

  88. hunk
    January 3, 2014

    now I know why I get so much energy on the rugby pitch whenever I listen to rap

  89. Bleezorp
    January 3, 2014

    Interesting article. You should use Trap music samples as an unfamiliar track guide for your research. Sounds like hip-hop/rap but it’s better, free of lyrics(so people don’t confuse pleasure they receive from lyrical content instead of the music itself)and most people have never heard of it. Which brings up another question: Why do some people have a great resistance to appreciating new genres while others are far more open and enjoy new music right away?

  90. Brian
    January 8, 2014

    FYI – its “Indie” Music, short for Independent, not “Indy”

  91. Virginia Hughes
    January 8, 2014

    Thanks, Brian, just changed it.

  92. Jeff-bob
    February 4, 2014

    Sacred Harp,girl. It feels great.

  93. Joanne
    February 9, 2014

    What a highly interesting article about this study. I am a retired paramedic and I suffer from chronic pain, due to a work related accident. I have always loved music, although I have no talent for the art itself, however, I use music to help control my pain and it does work. I do not claim that it takes the pain away completely, however, when I listen to music that I find enjoyable, it puts me in a state of relaxation, thus I feel all my muscles slowly release, greatly helping in diminishing the pain. I would like to know if the study itself is available to read. Best regards

  94. Mus. Teach.
    February 9, 2014

    Somehow, we feel a need to explain the most amazing experiences in life in scientific terms. As the daughter of a gifted chemist, I realized that much can be reduced to an equation. As I have grow older and wiser, I am sure there is something that we will never be able to explain. The intimacy of realizing a piece of music, as an ensemble, requires a sense that is only shared by dance ensembles. You have to feel what the other person is feeling and express it in perfect synchronization and intonation. I am not sure many people ever share the joy of that experience, especially since so many music education programs have been eliminated.

    I am curious why playing “classical music” drives teenagers from hanging out where they aren’t welcome.
    When I change musical genres to the classics, I can feel a shift in my brain to a more mellow space. Also, I think the classics require higher levels of intellectual awareness. That may drive the teen age “dinasoar brain” away from those experiences.

    And there Is always a need to do the research across cultures. It is interesting that most symphonies in the East play the classics. I often wish to hear more of the unique music from around the world. Music that uses a different scale just sounds out of tune for us.

    Good research always invites more research. Thanks for the thought stimulation.

  95. Kathy Obert
    February 9, 2014

    Just last while listening to our Richey Concert Orchestra it struck me that humans are really magical creatures that tool wood, metal,string and skin and used it to create a sound that could cause goose bumps and shivers of joy to engulf my body. I also find that listening to 50′s music on the radio touches my husband who has early onset Alzheimer’s. There is nothing he likes better than riding in the car listening to 50′s on 5.

  96. AstraLizard
    February 10, 2014

    Fascinating article, and equally fascinating comments. My introduction to music came at the beginning of my memory when my mother would sit me in her lap and sing all those baby songs like ‘patty-cake’ and ‘rockabye baby’. Music binds my memory to my experiences whether they are joyous or sad. Certain songs will instantly trigger the recall of an event, regardless of how long ago in my history it was. I am 60 now, and a working musician. In all the comments above, I read very little on what the effects of playing a musical instrument in a live band band has on our feelings and emotions. Perhaps you have heard of the difficulty or oft times ease of ‘getting in the groove’ with other members of the band. When this happens, it is very difficult to explain it, or how you feel. Sometimes I feel like I am on the outside looking in, and I no longer have to really concentrate on the piece being played. It’s like my brain takes full control of my body and it goes on auto-pilot. The feeling is totally euphoric, and is akin to all the other enlightening experiences and emotions you describe in your piece. Miraculous doesn’t do it justice, and it is even more miraculous to me when I realize that all this is just sound waves and frequencies in space interacting at one special moment with me!

  97. joel greer
    February 10, 2014

    like any mind altering “entity”. Music allows us to just “feel” vs. having to think

  98. SonofHud
    February 13, 2014

    I believe that music connects with us so profoundly because it taps in at a fundamental level to the harmonics of the universe. Superstring theory of modern physics is based on harmonics. Music, then, literally plugs us into the divine universal experience which is beyond the capacity of words to express.

    Betty, well said,i totally agree, believe if the harmonics /vibrations resonate within a person it basically put you in harmony with the universe.
    Music is the tuning fork we need to do this, thus as we are all a little different,our musical tastes may differ, i like all kinds of music, don,t like to put into genre’s because if it works/resonates with me,its cool, if not ,like opera, which some people are so passionate about, sadly it does’nt resonate within me, i have listened and tried to “get it” but figure its not opera ,but me thats not in tune with it.
    Everything in the universe is tied to ,waves, harmonics,vibrations,etc, i believe this to be the root of our love of music, Virginia and her group have done a great job of understanding the net effect, but again the music puts us in touch with our universe.

    good comments all…

  99. Cristian
    February 14, 2014

    Just listen to this :)

  100. Pauline
    February 14, 2014

    Really a fascinating topic, although for me it would be sort of impossible to get “elevated” by a song in its first 30 seconds (although I would of course be able to pick up songs of the genres I’d previously liked)

    And I have no idea how this theory can explain the very first experience with music that I remember well. I was about 8 or 9, and the song was Coma White by Marilyn Manson. I’d disliked music before that, at least I remember being irritated by it far more often than pleased, but this song just gave me goosebumps. I didn’t start to listen to rock music selectively untill I was in my early teens, but for several years, whenever this song was being played, I simply couldn’t sit quietly, feeling as if waves of electricity were flowing through me. And I still feel it, never being able to comprehend anything else written by M.M.

    Another peculiar experience was with classical music. I was 15 when I got to a music school, and I hadn’t appreciated classical music before at all. However, when I started to study structures of different pieces, the design and use of instruments, even composers’ biographies, I grew to understand the music itself. I remember weeping to some piece by Haydn, so profoundly shaking and majestic. The funny thing, though, is that when I dropped out I stopped “feeling” classical music too. I appreciate it more now and sometimes can even enjoy it, but it just doesn’t awake any deep emotions anymore.

  101. Kevin Corcoran
    February 21, 2014

    Interesting Article. The feelings have become so intense when I listen to music that moves me that I just can’ t take it and don’t really listen to music very much anymore. I can’t go to the symphony anymore without being overcome.

  102. Mark
    March 5, 2014

    This an old thread, but the book by Anton Ehrenzweig, “The Hidden Order of Art” and the book by Aaron Copeland, “Music and Imagination” are both worth reading on this. A brief taste of their ideas transferred to reproduced music in the home is here
    http://www.tnt-audio.com/topics/bluebeard_castle_e.html
    Koko’s comments illustrate the profound impact music has – we have evidence we were making music (and art) long before we have any evidence of speech

  103. Ceri
    June 14, 2014

    I am an oddity. I am a very capable musician (piano). I have a music degree, play by ear and can improvise easily, but there are very few pieces of music that I really enjoy. I think my problem is that I trained as a Music Therapist (post grad) and consequently, always analyse any music I hear. It’s difficult for me to just relax and listen to music as I automatically listen to the key, tempo, pitch, harmonic progression, volume, energy etc – all qualities vital to an improvising Psychoanalytically informed Music Therapist. I grew up listening to Bach and Handel and can still get some joy from listening to them, altho I think it’s also because there is an inherent sense of order in their music, and not only because I heard it as a child. Almost the only existing music that I can listen to (for pleasure) is Arvo Part. I do like his atonality-tonality spectrum, and he is still able to ‘surprise’ me musically. The other music that gives me pleasure is when I sit quietly at the piano and improvise. Because I can play by ear (and with my eyes shut) it becomes a kind of meditation and I am able to resolve issues, see into difficulties, and eventually, still my brain and allow the creativity to flow and heal my soul. I think Czicksentmihalyi (sp?) was onto something when he wrote about Flow. When my clients attain a sense of flow in their improvisations, they too seem to transcend their disabilities or restrictions, and take flight. I can see on their faces they have been rejuvenated by the experience of making music together. Sorry I went a bit off piste there, but having read some of the other comments, I can see how this little comments box becomes a confessional! thanks for an interesting article :)

  104. Mark
    June 19, 2014

    Ceri, That is a coincidence as I am an Art Therapist.

    There was a CPD event some years ago about remaining craetive after training in Art Therapy. For a long time, I too stopped art making outside the Art Therapy context and had to take deliberate steps to redisciver my pleasure in art making, some 15 years after training. I wonder what it is in the process of training in a supra-verbal psychotherapy that has this effect? It is oft reported by new art graduates too, that they have a fallow period after their degree show.

    Perhaps Bach & Handel are too cerebral after MTh training and Eastern Europeans composers like Part, or jazz like Miles Davis or Art Pepper would come into play?

  105. Lucy
    July 12, 2014

    I have synesthesia, which for me means that I see color when I hear voices. Sometimes I judge artists by how well their color plays in with the instrumental music. But during the Hungarian Dance #5, I didn’t have to do that, and, just like Valorie, felt very uplifted while I was listening to it. Even if the artist’s color doesn’t fit with the rest of the music being played I might still like the piece.

  106. kevil
    July 19, 2014

    There was a CPD event some years ago about remaining craetive after training in Art Therapy. For a long time, I too stopped art making outside the Art Therapy context and had to take deliberate steps to redisciver my pleasure in art making, some 15 years after training. I wonder what it is in the process of training in a supra-verbal psychotherapy that has this effect? It is oft reported by new art graduates too, that they have a fallow period after their degree show.

Add Your Comments

All fields required.

Related Posts