Music, Emotion & the Brain

In this blog I will cover two topics:


Love for and appreciation of music is a universal characteristic of the human culture. It has been theorized that music even predates language. Music has grown to be an important part of human life, but why is that so? What is that powerful link between music and the brain and how come we cannot explain emotional responses caused by music although we can quantify them?

The fields of music and biology are usually seen as mutually exclusive, and to find a neurobiologist also proficient in music is not very common. But there are some and I’ve just stepped into exploring neuroscience field in connection with music and in this blog I’ll write all the interesting findings I stumbled upon.

The thing is that in trying to study music’s emotional power – the emotional content of music is very subjective. A piece of music may be undeniably emotionally powerful, and at the same time be experienced in very different ways by each person who hears it. A different emotional response can be due to so many factors both impossible to control and impossible to quantify plus they are often found to be culturally dependent to a certain degree.

Nevertheless, we do know by now that music’s ability to produce emotional responses in the brain can also affect hormone levels in the body and for instance, lower the cortisol (associated with stress), raise the melatonin (the hormone that is naturally induced right before we fall into sleep) etc.

Akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness. We may think that we are simply just listening to a song, but there is much more to it than that. Our brain is responding to and analyzing the music that we listen to, while we ourselves are not analyzing it consciously (unless we are musicians 🙂 ) So even when we are using music merely as a background mood enhancer or to help us focus on activity, it does not serve as a focus itself thus engaging our brain in different levels of thinking – simultaneously.


As a film composer – I need to first identify and then create the exact emotion that will be produced in a listener with music and although most of my music isn’t scored rationally nor mentally, there are some incorporated “rules” that mind is intuitively using. For instance, different intervals of melodies produce different emotion. And I would say that although it is generally believed that minor key is “sad” and major key is “happy” – that is not the case as much as the usage of specific intervals (in both harmony steps and the melody) which I will cover in detail in my future writings.

Let me know if you want something specific to be covered or you have any interesting findings to add! I’ll be happy to publish those as well. Stay tuned….. 🙂




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