Music and the Brain

Published by KidLinks on: Mar 07, 2019 — Music Therapy

When was the last time you heard a song and thought, “Wow! I have not heard this in forever,” then proceeded to sing along with most of the words as well as the melody? Chances are, you were also transported back to a time in the past full of memories, experiences, and emotions connected to this song. Music is processed all over our brain, making it a handy tool for Music Therapists to use for a bunch of different of reasons:

  • Music processing in the brain is bilateral, meaning it involves the left and right sides of the brain. If damage is done to the left side of the brain where language is processed, a Music Therapist has the knowledge to use interventions such as singing, tapping a drum, or other instrument playing that engage other areas of the brain to help regain communication skills.
  • Music stimulates the limbic system (place in brain responsible for emotions), kicking off emotional processing. A Music Therapist can use different interventions such as songwriting, analyzing lyrics, or live instrument playing to access and process difficult feelings within a person.
  • Music engages the part of the brain that is responsible for movement (think about tapping your foot to a song). A Music Therapist can use rhythm as a stimulus, such as playing a steady beat or using a song with a strong rhythm in it, to help a person improve his/her ability to walk, if needed.
  • Music engages areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. A Music Therapist may use a person’s favorite song to aid in increasing attention span. The Music Therapist can change the song as needed, such as stretching out song lines or phrases or changing the tempo. The favorite song or a different known song can also help in teaching new concepts by expanding a person’s attention span, allowing learning to take place.
  • Just some fun facts on music and the brain: rhythmic stimulation is needed for “normal” development; consonant and dissonant chords are processed in different areas of the brain; musicians process music differently than non-musicians.

This is barely scratching the surface of how music affects the brain. Knowing these things now and learning more in the future will help Music Therapists and other professionals find creative ways to help a person for a number of different reasons.


  • Anderson, V. (2005, November). Music processing in the brain: Differences between trained musicians and untrained novices. Paper presented at the American Music Therapist Conference, Orlando, FL.
  • Roskam, K. S. (2003). Feeling the sound: The influence of music on behavior. Wichita, KS: Hajita Books.


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