What Happens to Your Brain When You Listen to Music

Music may be the secret to improving test scores, staying focused, and improving your mood.

 large headphones laying on a table

You may have heard that music can help you focus, increase your test scores, or improve your memory. Pretty remarkable, really. Music affects us in incredible ways.

There’s no shortage of music in the world, especially given the myriad cultures, genres, and the vast number of websites and apps available—music is now more accessible than ever before.

Music can affect your mood

The easiest way to understand why music has such a powerful effect on the mind is to monitor brain activity while someone is listening to music. Columbia University developed a machine that effectively does just that. The results show different parts of the brain that are activated when a song is playing.

Most people have different music preferences, but interestingly enough, taste in music isn’t the most important factor—an emotional connection is. When a song that a person seems to enjoy is playing, the limbic system (the part of the brain that controls emotion) shows much more activity. As a result, music that evokes emotion can have a direct effect on one’s mood.

Music can help connect people and make us feel like we’re not alone. It’s the reason we have music at parties, funerals, graduations, and in movies. In a 2011 study, participants completed a task and then were falsely told they performed poorly.

One group was left in silence afterward, while another group was placed in a room with positive music playing. Those who heard the music after reported that they were more hopeful about future tasks than those left in silence.

Related: Why Smiling Is Good for You

Music can help you to focus

Can music really help you focus? Yes—but it depends on the type of music. “Music with lyrics is very likely to have a problematic effect when you’re writing or reading,” said Clifford Nass, professor at Stanford University. Classical music or instrumental genres have been used more frequently to help students study.

Furthermore, a 2013 study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine concluded that musically trained children had stronger everyday listening skills than those who had no music training. The same listening skills are also closely related to a child’s ability to pay attention, keep sounds in their memory, and understand speech through background noise. 

Related: 10 Ways to Add More Joy to Your Life

In today’s world of customization—and with music at your fingertips—you can now enjoy all the benefits of music, anytime you want. So go find some stellar tunes and increase your brain activity!

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