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Music and the Brain

  • Oct 11, 2010
  • Dianna Babcock & Cheryl Henningsgaard

Welcome back to MacPhail’s Musical Story Telling Blog! For the next two blog postings, we will provide information about music’s effect on brain functioning. This first part is on the effects music has on the outside brain – cortex areas. The next series entry will focus on the inside of the brain.


Many of our readers have shared they would like more information on the influences of music on the brain. We are excited to share with our reading audience cutting-edge research featured in the August 14, 2010 article, “Your Brain on Music” published in Science News. Below is some vital information obtained from the article.

Your Brain on Music:
Based on MRI and PET scan readings, music lightens up and influences almost every area of the brain. Music encourages recollections of vivid memories, promotes movement, and increases endorphins to raise our spirits.

Around the Outside of the Brain:

Prefrontal Cortex: This part of the brain region is associated with satisfaction, creativity, and violations of expectations. This part of the brain may react when a steady beat is missing. During musical improvisation, this part of the brain will “rev” up and become involved in self-initiated thoughts.

Motor Cortex: Music is not always independent of motion. While listening to music, or playing a musical instrument, the motor cortex gets involved and foot-tapping and dancing, or timed physical movements occur.

Sensory Cortex: Tactile messages are sent to the brain in this area while playing a music instrument, such as hitting a specific key.

Auditory Cortex: A map for pitches and perception and analysis of tones are highlighted in this brain region whenever any sound is being heard.

Visual Cortex: The visual cortex is activated when reading music or watching a performer’s movements.

© MacPhail Center for Music, 2010


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