How the Right Music Fuels Your Brain


Has Toto’s Africa ever uplifted you on a dreary Monday morning? Has Alanis Morisette’s You Oughta Know given you some much-needed catharsis after a bad breakup?

Music has a mysterious power over our mood. It can motivate us to work out harder, inspire a necessary cry session, and even give us an instant mood boost. But what about those songs you really connect with at a particular moment? The ones that seem to speak to your soul and move you like no other? How does that phenomenon occur? 

Well, according to recent studies, our brain waves actively engage with the music we listen to, synchronizing with the rhythm of a song. As Keith Doelling, a neuroscientist at NYU, told Medical Daily, “For any rhythmic sound, the brain seems to align its own rhythms to that of the sound so that they are both ‘on the same wavelength.’” 

In short, the song and your brain begin dancing to the same beat. And the power and potential of this synchronicity is pretty profound.

The healing power of music

So, research has revealed that music doesn’t just passively wash over us. Rather, it actively influences brain function, which in turn affects our bodies. With this knowledge in hand, health professionals are constantly searching for new ways to use music to heal. Known as music therapy, this well-established field uses music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. Hospitals are even beginning to use music therapy to help patients with pain management and depression.

Great success has been found, for example, using music therapy to treat burn patients who experience excruciating pain when undergoing procedures such as skin grafting, dressing changes, and physical rehabilitation. A study released in 2017 concluded, “A statistically significant difference in pain relief was demonstrated between music and non-music interventions.” In addition, the study found that music intervention “markedly reduced anxiety in individuals.” A separate study discovered that patients who listened to the music of their choice before surgery experienced less anxiety than patients who received valium. 

Research has also shown that certain types of music can help slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. In fact, music has been proven to increase the release of feel-good hormones, serotonin and dopamine

Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains that listening to sad music helps the brain release prolactin, a soothing hormone that makes you feel comforted. 

In short, the right music can be incredibly useful when it comes to stress management and even depression. So how can we maximize music’s healing power in our own lives?

Maximizing music’s mood-shaping powers

Music simultaneously absorbs our attention and distracts us from pain, allowing us to explore and cope with difficult emotions. But you don’t need to visit a trained music therapist to benefit from music in your own life. “Music is food, fuel for the brain,” Levithin states — he recommends using music as an organic alternative to medication. 

So, what music should you listen to? Chances are, you already have playlists full of songs that inspire you and lift your spirits. But to be more proactive in the type of music that impacts you, choose songs with a specific amount of beats per minute (bpm). The number of beats per minute in a song correlates with your brain waves and impacts performance and mood. 

Try creating playlists with songs of a certain bpm to target moods (look up a song’s bpm on songbpm.com.) For relaxation, stress relief, and concentration, choose songs with a slower tempo that have about 50-80 bpm. For upbeat motivation, try songs with between 80-120 bpm. For exercise, choose fast tempo songs with a bpm between 140-180. 

Music heals, so make time for it

Music is an incredible tool for addressing stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as some of the physical symptoms that these conditions can produce. And it actively syncs with your brain waves, making it the perfect companion for activities as wide ranging as meditation and high-impact exercise. So make time for it!

Whether you’re singing in the car, learning to play a new instrument, attending a concert, or just popping on your headphones, try to find ways to utilize music as an all-natural method of mood-enhancing stress relief. 

Motivated to discover new music? Check out Grotto Network’s Spotify profile for regularly updated playlists that are chock-full of inspiring musicians.

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