Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Every Brain Needs Music

 One of the most fundamental aspects of the human condition is the creation, consumption, and subsequent adoration of music. Think of your favorite song right now, this is called "audiation", as you do this synapses in your brain fire in a pattern similar to brains that are actively listening to music. In fact music is so fundamental to our brains, that there are specific cell clusters in the auditory cortex of the human brain that only activate in response to music and sounds with musical qualities (i.e. ringtones, jingles, etc.). 

An fMRI of a brain listening to music

Not only does music feel good emotionally, it also may help prevent and lessen the effects of degenerative cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer's. For a long time it was assumed that humans stopped producing new neurons after they were born. This assumption was based on a simple fact, neurons themselves do not go through mitosis. Therefore, the rationale was, no mitosis, no new neuron cells. It is now known that while neurons themselves cannot divide, the stem cells that produce neurons can divide well into adulthood, this is called neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is well documented in the pharmaceutical industry as many medications for the treatment of depression and anxiety such as SSRIs and SNRIs actively stimulate neurogenesis. It is well documented now too that listening to music can stimulate a bit of neurogenesis. Playing music can stimulate even greater neurogenesis creating meshes of new neurons and synaptic pathways in the brain. These additional and strengthened neural pathways give the brain a surplus of neurons that can help resist and soften the effects of diseases like Alzheimer's without the use of medication. 

Pianist and OHSU Neuroscientist Dr. Larry Sherman playing piano

This is a very interesting field of research because it is clear that the act of music has lasting effects on our brain's chemistry. Future questions could potentially investigate if there is any epigenetic effects that correlate with long term music use. Given the fact that no other primates make music in the way humans do, it would be interesting to see if there is/are a "music gene(s)". It also goes to show that learning music is not only good for the soul, it is objectively good for your body. So make sure to eat your vegetables, get plenty of sleep, and enjoy your favorite musical artists, your body will thank you!

Link to article here


  1. This is a very interesting article. To know that there is a purpose to music down to the cellular level is awesome. There are many more benefits to listening to music such as reducing anxiety, improving sleep and mood, and strengthening your brain function. However I didn't know about the lessening of effects of Alzheimer's or even the resistance of the disease because of music. I wonder what other diseases music can help with. Great post!

  2. I love this article...not just because of the neuro component, but because of the association to music. The brain is so fascinating with music because of how it compartmentalizes it and the synapses can create new associations to certain things. The Alzheimer's part is also SO cool! Music therapy is actually proven to help patients with Alzheimer's, and I know firsthand because of how it created associations for my grandpa. Awesome post, Justin!!

  3. This is very interesting, I knew listening to music could have benefits for your mental health, but had no idea the upside it had to physical health and brain chemistry as well. The use of music as an Alzheimer's treatment is incredible, being able to benefit the patient without medication or an invasive procedure.

  4. This post is really informative on how much music can impact a person. It's fascinating to read that more than just emotionally, music can have such a big effect on a person's cognition. The neural implications of listening to music is really interesting, because one would not expect that listening to music you enjoy could assist in creating new synaptic pathways and increasing neurogenesis.

  5. This was so interesting to read! I actually saw a video related to this topic where a woman with Alzheimers who used to be a professional dancer, was played her dance music and remembered the dance. The brain is so interesting and there is still so much we do not know about it!