This is Your Brain on Music | Teen Ink

This is Your Brain on Music

August 8, 2010
By kread18 DIAMOND, Berkeley, California
kread18 DIAMOND, Berkeley, California
65 articles 0 photos 33 comments

Music is the most beautiful human obsession according to Daniel Levitin. In his book This is your Brain on Music, he describes the impact music has had on the human mind. No known culture in history has lacked music, and whenever humans come together, there is always music. In America, it is a 30 billion dollar industry, not including concert ticket sales. We Americans spend more money on music than on sex or prescription drugs.

What is it about music that makes it so engaging for us? A common goal of artists and scientists is the pursuit of truth. They want to move people, and manipulate their emotions. We accept, and even enjoy the ability for a lullaby to sooth us, or for a pop song to make us want to dance. Advertisers use music to sell their products, and directors in movies use it to embellish the feeling of the moment. No one can forget the eerie mood created by the screeching violins in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, or the simple yet chilling theme from Jaws.

Shayne P., sophomore, is a member of Chamber Choir, Varsity Band, Guitar 2 class, and two bands: Spaghetti Jazz and Sardel. As an active member of many musical groups, he comments, “I can feel certain emotions through music, and I connect with it really well.”

Only in the past 500 years have we begun to make a distinction between music makers and music listeners. Other cultures around the world consider music an everyday part of life, as natural as breathing or walking. Music is universal, understood by people all over the world. Music listening and performance engage nearly every region of the brain, making it one of the most mind-stimulating activities on the planet.

Music is a valuable resource that can make learning easier for young children. According to, a study done with ten 3-year-olds showed that after getting music lessons about 30 minutes a week, they were able to put a particular puzzle together faster than ever before. Another study done at UC Irvine with 36 college students showed that after listening to a Mozart piano sonata, their IQ test scores rose an average of nine points.

“Sound is a mental image created by vibrating molecules in your ear drum”, according to Levitin. What goes into the ear comes out of the brain, so to speak, and a “tonatopic” map is created in your mind, charting the different pitches. By the age of 5, children develop and sense of pitch, and recognize that different pitches evoke different moods. Major scales usually evoke a happy feeling, while minor scales paint sad pictures in our minds. Billie Holiday uses a blues scale while Tchaikovsky uses a Chinese or Arab scale in The Nutcracker. These different scales use different pitches to call to mind various feelings.

Kendra T., junior, a member of Chamber Choir and Varsity Band, commented, “Music gives me a different perspective. Each song can be applied to different moods.” Tustin can play four different instruments, and her favorite song is Water Night, which Chamber Choir is currently singing, because of the array of emotions it captures.

Rhythm is the aspect of music that creates movement throughout a song, and what makes us want to get up and dance. It’s what made Sunny Rollins, a famous saxophone player, able to improvise for 3 ½ minutes using only a single note. Linked to rhythm is tempo, the rate at which the heart of the song is beating, so to speak. Fast tempos bring about happy feelings, while slow tempos are associated with sad thoughts. These different parts of music will make you listen to each song differently, and hear things you never heard before. As Tustin commented, “Music makes me feel better… I go into my own little world.”

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This article has 1 comment.

on Jul. 28 2014 at 10:03 am
Could someone please let me know what date this article was published? Also, has it been published in print, or solely online?
Thank you!