How Music Affects the Brain

Music and the Brain

Effect of Music on Mood

Music can affect the brain in a multitude of different ways. Steady, calm music is likely to balance our emotions whilst fast, energetic music is likely to raise our pulse as it designed to make us move. When it comes to intellectually useful brain states, such as focus, different types of music seem to work for different people. Some people prefer pure white noise or ambient noise whilst others like orchestral music. However, as we have begun to recognise the power that music can have on our moods and personalities, streaming services have begun curating playlists, specifically designed to help us reach many desired states.

How We Select Music

The majority of the time, we choose the songs that we want to listen to, based on personal preference, but many factors can come into this. After hearing music for many years of our life, we are quite sure of what we like and what we don’t like. This can be due to a general taste with a particular type of music, due to what other people we associate with listen to, or based on repetition. Music choice, however, may not just be about conscious taste. Instead, there may be something inside the music that we hear to that helps us to identify and seek to listen to it again. This could be almost imperceptible because it is happening multiple times per second for the duration of a song.

Music to Influence Behaviour

Historically, music has always been used to influence feelings and therefore, behaviour. For part of the 20th Century, Muzak (a brand of background music) was piped into shops and factories. Those associated with Muzak claimed it could improve the moods of customers and the rate of employee productivity. The theory was to arrange 15 minute blocks of music that would gradually increase in tempo and energy. The goal was what scientists would refer to as “brain entrainment”. This is what happens when our brainwaves align with stimuli in the outside world, like music. This is also what makes you feel like dancing and how your jogging speed seems to keep in time with the music you listen to if you go for a run.

Music to Help Concentration

The vast majority of music is created in order to distract and/or entertain you, which can definitely be a negative when you’re working. For example, the human voice is a huge distraction, naturally. In terms of the overall melody, expectation and surprise often play a huge part but these are also distracting. When we work or focus whilst listening to music, we really need to minimise salient sounds which are sounds that stand out in a very obvious way. These sounds are helpful for dancing or jogging, but not for focus as they demand our attention. Music which is good for focus should blend everything together in order to minimise anything that could stand out to the listener.

Changing Emotions Through Music

Conversely, there may be times when we feel negative emotions, such as sadness, envy and anger. During these times, we can often find refuge in music that reflects these feelings. When we listen to music that reflects the way we feel at that time, it can help us to feel identified with. This can either make us feel better (due to identification with the content) or worse (due to focusing more attention on the negative emotion). If we choose to listen to upbeat music during times of negative emotions, we may feel better (if the music inspires us to forget our troubles) or worse (if we compare our current emotion to the emotion of the song).

As an example, when we feel very angry with a situation, if can be tempting to listen to music with a large dynamic range (the range from quietest to loudest of volume during a piece of music) such as Rock, as this expresses our inner-most feelings. It is important to learn how different music effects your mood so that you can make the best choice when you want to feel a certain way.

Musical Genres Appeal to Different Personalities

There is not a right or wrong style of music to listen to. However, each style has different characteristics which appeal to certain personality traits in the listener. Depending on the kind of mood/personality trait you want to harbour in yourself, you may want to try experimenting with different genres and see how this impacts your mood for different situations. Before playing sport for example, you may be better to listen to lively and energetic music, such as dance, to boost your energy levels. On the other hand, before a stressful situation, such as a job interview, you may want to listen to something calmer such as soft classical music, to settle any nerves.

How Genres are Linked to Personality

  • Classical Music appeals to more naturally introverted people. Listeners generally have high self-esteem, are creative and at ease with the world. We can see a link between the grandiose nature of the music and those with high self-esteem, and how creative types would be drawn to the complexities of the arrangements.
  • Country Music appeals to hard-working, outgoing people. This ties in with the story-telling day-to-day subject matter contained within the music, and its effects can be almost conversational and therapeutic to the listener.
  • Dance Music appeals to creative and outgoing people. However, fans of dance do not often show gentle qualities. This agrees with the genre as it is uses thumping bass drums and powerful bass notes which cannot be disguised. Most parts of dance music are intended to grab your attention and make you move.
  • Hip-Hop Music appeals to outgoing people with high self-esteem. This matches the content of its music and many rapper’s lyrics are frequently associated with bravado, boasts and fighting talk. Powerful drum beats are often balanced by carefully selected samples to grab the attention of the listener.
  • Jazz Music appeals to those with high self-esteem and with a high level of creativity. Fans of Jazz are often outgoing people who are at ease with the world. They are often more adaptable to change and this agrees with the improvisational nature of jazz where the listener can never anticipate what is coming next. Jazz epitomises originality.
  • Reggae Music appeals to fans with a high level of self-esteem. They are creative, outgoing and at ease. However, it appeals to less hard-working fans than other genres and this agrees with the slower tempos associated with Reggae which are more useful for down-time and relaxation.
  • Rock Music appeals to people with a lower self-esteem who are creative but less hard-working. They are also not as outgoing but they are generally at ease with the world. Rock music encompasses a wide range of emotions, and the music represents a certain instability, with huge highs and lows of feeling.
  • Soul/R&B Music appeals to people with high self-esteem who are also creative. They are outgoing, gentle people who are at ease with their surroundings. This echoes the genre itself which is focused around confident singers who possess large vocal ranges. The backing music is usually very imaginative and altogether it can be soothing to listen to.
  • Pop Music appeals to positive people who are hard-working by nature. They are also outgoing but gentle with others and their surroundings. Pop listeners are generally not as creative as listeners of other genres. This coincides with the musicality as the content of pop music is often simpler than that of other genres. However, it is designed to be catchy, uplifting and fun to listen to.

Music and Mindset Further Reading:


I am an experienced SEO and Digital Marketer with a keen interest in Sports, Music and Psychology. The idea for Success Mentality came about naturally through the combination of my interests as it enabled me to research and blog about the individuals that have achieved the most success in fields that I like to follow.
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