Music, Emotion, and Well-Being

How does music affect the way we think, feel, and behave?

Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.
 Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

One of the most important issues in the psychology of music is how music affects emotional experience (Juslin, 2019). Music has the ability to evoke powerful emotional responses such as chills and thrills in listeners.

Positive emotions dominate musical experiences. Pleasurable music may lead to the release of neurotransmitters associated with reward, such as dopamine. Listening to music is an easy way to alter mood or relieve stress. People use music in their everyday lives to regulate, enhance, and diminish undesirable emotional states (e.g., stress, fatigue). How does music listening produce emotions and pleasure in listeners?

1. Musical pleasure. The enjoyment of music appears to involve the same pleasure center in the brain as other forms of pleasure, such as food, sex, and drugs. Evidence shows that an aesthetic stimulus, such as music, can naturally target the dopamine systems of the brain that are typically involved in highly reinforcing and addictive behaviors.

In one study, participants listened to their favorite songs after taking naltrexone. Naltrexone is a widely prescribed drug for treating addiction disorders. The researchers found that when study subjects took naltrexone, they reported that their favorite songs were no longer pleasurable (Malik et al., 2017). However, not everyone experiences intense emotional responses to music. Roughly 5% of the populations do not experience chills. This incapacity to derive pleasure specifically from music has been called musical anhedonia.

2. Musical anticipation. Music can be experienced as pleasurable both when it fulfills and violates expectations. The more unexpected the events in music, the more surprising is the musical experience (Gebauer & Kringelbach, 2012). We appreciate music that is less predictable and slightly more complex.

3. Refined emotions. There is also an intellectual component to the appreciation for music. The dopamine systems do not work in isolation, and their influence will be largely dependent on their interaction with other regions of the brain. That is, our ability to enjoy music can be seen as the outcome of our human emotional brain and its more recently evolved neocortex. Evidence shows that people who consistently respond emotionally to aesthetic musical stimuli possess stronger white matter connectivity between their auditory cortex and the areas associated with emotional processing, which means the two areas communicate more efficiently (Sachs et al., 2016).

4. Memories. Memories are one of the important ways in which musical events evoke emotions. As the late physician Oliver Sacks has noted, musical emotions and musical memory can survive long after other forms of memory have disappeared. Part of the reason for the durable power of music appears to be that listening to music engages many parts of the brain, triggering connections and creating associations.

5. Action tendency. Music often creates strong action tendencies to move in coordination with the music (e.g., dancing, foot-tapping). Our internal rhythms (e.g., heart rate) speed up or slow down to become one with the music. We float and move with the music.

6. Emotional Mimicry. Music doesn’t only evoke emotions at the individual level, but also at the interpersonal and intergroup level. Listeners mirror their reactions to what the music expresses, such as sadness from sad music, or cheer from happy music. Similarly, ambient music affects shoppers’ and diners’ moods.

7. Consumer behavior. Background music has a surprisingly strong influence on consumer behavior. For example, one study (North, et al., 1999) exposed customers in a supermarket drinks section to either French music or German music. The results showed that French wine outsold German wine when French music was played, whereas German wine outsold French wine when German music was played.

8. Mood regulation. People crave ‘escapism’ during uncertain times to avoid their woes and troubles. Music offers a resource for emotion regulation. People use music to achieve various goals, such as to energize, maintain focus on a task, and reduce boredom. For instance, sad music enables the listener to disengage from the distressing situations (breakup, death, etc.), and focus instead on the beauty of the music. Further, lyrics that resonate with the listener’s personal experience can give voice to feelings or experiences that one might not be able to express oneself.

9. Time perception. Music is a powerful emotional stimulus that changes our relationship with time. Time does indeed seem to fly when listening to pleasant music. Music is therefore used in waiting rooms to reduce the subjective duration of time spent waiting and in supermarkets to encourage people to stay for longer and buy more (Droit-Volet, et al., 2013). Hearing pleasant music seems to divert attention away from time processing. Moreover, this attention-related shortening effect appears to be greater in the case of calm music with a slow tempo.

10. Identity development. Music can be a powerful tool for identity development (Lidskog, 2016). Young people derive a sense of identity from music. For example, the movie Blinded by the Light shows the power of Springsteen songs to speak to Javed’s experience on a personal level. The lyrics help him to find a voice he never knew he had, and the courage to follow his dreams, find love, and assert himself.


Droit-Volet S, Ramos D, Bueno JL, Bigand E. (2013) Music, emotion, and time perception: the influence of subjective emotional valence and arousal? Front Psychol; 4:417. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00417.

Gebauer L, and Morten L. Kringelbach (2012) Ever-Changing Cycles of Musical Pleasure: The Role of Dopamine and Anticipation Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, Vol. 22, No. 2, 152–16.

Juslin PN (2019), Musical Emotions Explained, Oxford University Press.

Lidskog Rolf (2016), The role of music in ethnic identity formation in diaspora: a research review, International Social Science Journal, Vol. 66, nr 219-220, s. 23-38.

Malik Adiel, at al (2017) Anhedonia to music and mu-opioids: Evidence from the administration of naltrexone. Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 41952 DOI:10.1038/srep41952

North AC, Shilcock A, Hargreaves DJ. The effect of musical style on restaurant customers’ spending. Environ Behav. 2003;35:712–8.

Sachs E Matthew, et al., (2016), Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to music, Social and Affective Neuroscience. 1-8.

IQ Tests Can’t Measure It, but ‘Cognitive Flexibility’ Is Key to Learning and Creativity

IQ Tests Can’t Measure It, but ‘Cognitive Flexibility’ Is Key to Learning and Creativity

Are you good at changing perspectives? If so, it may benefit you in more ways than you imagine.

  • Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian
  • Christelle Langley
  • Victoria Leong

Einstein thought imagination was crucial. Robert and Talbot Trudeau/Flickr, CC BY-NC

IQ is often hailed as a crucial driver of success, particularly in fields such as science, innovation and technology. In fact, many people have an endless fascination with the IQ scores of famous people. But the truth is that some of the greatest achievements by our species have primarily relied on qualities such as creativity, imagination, curiosity and empathy.

Many of these traits are embedded in what scientists call “cognitive flexibility” – a skill that enables us to switch between different concepts, or to adapt behaviour to achieve goals in a novel or changing environment. It is essentially about learning to learn and being able to be flexible about the way you learn. This includes changing strategies for optimal decision-making. In our ongoing research, we are trying to work out how people can best boost their cognitive flexibility.

Cognitive flexibility provides us with the ability to see that what we are doing is not leading to success and to make the appropriate changes to achieve it. If you normally take the same route to work, but there are now roadworks on your usual route, what do you do? Some people remain rigid and stick to the original plan, despite the delay. More flexible people adapt to the unexpected event and problem-solve to find a solution.

Cognitive flexibility may have affected how people coped with the pandemic lockdowns, which produced new challenges around work and schooling. Some of us found it easier than others to adapt our routines to do many activities from home. Such flexible people may also have changed these routines from time to time, trying to find better and more varied ways of going about their day. Others, however, struggled and ultimately became more rigid in their thinking. They stuck to the same routine activities, with little flexibility or change.

Huge advantages

Flexible thinking is key to creativity – in other words, the ability to think of new ideas, make novel connections between ideas, and make new inventions. It also supports academic and work skills such as problem solving. That said, unlike working memory – how much you can remember at a certain time – it is largely independent of IQ, or “ crystallised intelligence”. For example, many visual artists may be of average intelligence, but highly creative and have produced masterpieces.

Contrary to many people’s beliefs, creativity is also important in science and innovation. For example, we have discovered that entrepreneurs who have created multiple companies are more cognitively flexible than managers of a similar age and IQ.

So does cognitive flexibility make people smarter in a way that isn’t always captured on IQ tests? We know that it leads to better “ cold cognition”, which is non-emotional or “rational” thinking, throughout the lifespan. For example, for children it leads to better reading abilities and better school performance.

It can also help protect against a number of biases, such as confirmation bias. That’s because people who are cognitively flexible are better at recognising potential faults in themselves and using strategies to overcome these faults.

Cognitive flexibility is also associated with higher resilience to negative life events, as well as better quality of life in older individuals. It can even be beneficial in emotional and social cognition: studies have shown that cognitive flexibility has a strong link to the ability to understand the emotions, thoughts and intentions of others.

The opposite of cognitive flexibility is cognitive rigidity, which is found in a number of mental health disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder and autism spectrum disorder.

Neuroimaging studies have shown that cognitive flexibility is dependent on a network of frontal and “striatal” brain regions. The frontal regions are associated with higher cognitive processes such as decision-making and problem solving. The striatal regions are instead linked with reward and motivation.

Some people have more flexible brains. Utthapon wiratepsupon/Shutterstock

There are a number of ways to objectively assess people’s cognitive flexibility, including the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test and the CANTAB Intra-Extra Dimensional Set Shift Task.

Boosting Flexibility

The good news is that it seems you can train cognitive flexibility. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, is an evidence-based psychological therapy which helps people change their patterns of thoughts and behaviour. For example, a person with depression who has not been contacted by a friend in a week may attribute this to the friend no longer liking them. In CBT, the goal is to reconstruct their thinking to consider more flexible options, such as the friend being busy or unable to contact them.

Structure learning – the ability to extract information about the structure of a complex environment and decipher initially incomprehensible streams of sensory information – is another potential way forward. We know that this type of learning involves similar frontal and striatal brain regions as cognitive flexibility.

In a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and Nanyang Technological University, we are currently working on a “real world” experiment to determine whether structural learning can actually lead to improved cognitive flexibility.

Studies have shown the benefits of training cognitive flexibility, for example in children with autism. After training cognitive flexibility, the children showed not only improved performance on cognitive tasks, but also improved social interaction and communication. In addition, cognitive flexibility training has been shown to be beneficial for children without autism and in older adults.

As we come out of the pandemic, we will need to ensure that in teaching and training new skills, people also learn to be cognitively flexible in their thinking. This will provide them with greater resilience and wellbeing in the future.

Cognitive flexibility is essential for society to flourish. It can help maximise the potential of individuals to create innovative ideas and creative inventions. Ultimately, it is such qualities we need to solve the big challenges of today, including global warming, preservation of the natural world, clean and sustainable energy and food security.

Professors Trevor Robbins, Annabel Chen and Zoe Kourtzi also contributed to this article.


It’s 2006. I’m on the school bus listening to my iPod, when on comes Johnny Cash’s “Hurt.The song begins softly, a wistful Cash singing of loss and regret over sparse acoustic plucking.

As a freshman in high school, I know nothing of the song’s mature themes of aging and death. But about halfway through the song, something happens. The guitar and piano increase in volume, and Cash’s voice starts to crescendo. I feel the hairs stand on the back of my neck. A warm shiver runs up my spine, and goosebumps appear on my arms. It feels like something important is happening. I don’t know what exactly. But something is coming.

And the moment I expect the song will decrescendo, as it had in the previous chorus… It doesn’t. Cash’s voice wails over a pounding piano and guitar that threatens to blow out my headphones.

Suddenly, my body is seized by a rapturous electricity; my mind is invigorated by an indescribable fusion of ecstasy, awe, despair, and longing. And in an instant, I realize something deep in my bones:

This is what it feels like to be alive.

The physiology of frisson

There is a word that describes this common human response to music — a word for “that moment” when a song pierces your body and soul. It’s called “frisson,” and it’s the reason why music from artists as seemingly disparate as Johnny Cash, Metallica, Céline Dion, and Mozart are all featured on a recently released, scientifically-backed playlist of songs that researchers claim are likely to give people “chills.” The 715-song playlist was curated by a team of neuroscientists and is available on Spotify.

Frisson” derives from French and is “a sudden feeling or sensation of excitement, emotion or thrill,” and the experience is not confined to music. Historically, frisson has been used interchangeably with the term “aesthetic chills.”

According to a 2019 study, one can experience frisson when staring at a brilliant sunset or a beautiful painting; when realizing a deep insight or truth; when reading a particularly resonant line of poetry; or when watching the climax of a film.

Researchers often describe frisson as a “piloerection” (or “skin orgasm”) noting that the experience retains similar “biological and psychological components to sexual orgasm.” Some refer to frisson as “pleasurable gooseflesh,” while others maintain that the definition should expand “to include other perceptible, non-dermal reactions such as tears, lump-in-throat sensations, and muscle tension/relaxation.”

While it is understood that appreciation of beauty is central to what makes us human, it is not clear to researchers what evolutionary advantage this sensitivity could have given our species. The current consensus is that it has something to do with our need to understand our environment:

“Aesthetic chills correspond to a satisfaction of humans’ internal drive to acquire knowledge about the external world and perceive objects and situations as meaningful. In humans, this need to explore and understand environmental conditions is a biological prerequisite for survival.”

What causes frisson?

In his 2006 book Sweet Anticipation, musicologist David Huron offers a compelling explanation for why we experience such powerful responses to music. He calls it “contrastive valence theory,” in which feeling states are strongly influenced by contrast.

“If we initially feel bad, and then we feel good, the good feeling tends to be stronger than if the good experience occurred without the preceding bad feeling.” This is due to a regulatory process called “cognitive appraisal,” in which our minds use cognitive and linguistic processes to reframe the meaning of a stimulus. Huron uses the idea of a surprise party to illustrate this phenomenon:

“When a person is unexpectedly surprised by her friends, the first response is one of terror: her eyelids retract and her jaw drops. But within half a second, fear is replaced by happy celebration as the individual recognizes her friends and the positive social meaning of the event.”

According to Huron, when the appraisal response confirms that there is no threat, contrastive valence transforms the negative feelings into something positive.

Consider Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” (one of three Metallica songs featured on the curated playlist). It is understandable if your immediate emotional reaction to the song’s shocking intro is one of fear and foreboding. But thanks to “cognitive reappraisal,” that initial adrenaline rush can be transformed into something positive when you realize that you are safe, and that it is music making you feel this way.

Also, notice how this experience is related to how our brains anticipate. This ties into Huron’s larger argument in Sweet Anticipation, which is built upon ideas popularized by renowned music psychologist Leonard Meyer.

The emotional power of violated expectations

According to an article in Frontiers in Psychology, “Expectancy violations (e.g., harmonic, rhythmic, and/or melodic violations) are strongly correlated to the onset of musical frisson, such that some level of violated expectation may be a prerequisite.”

Our minds, which evolved to predict future outcomes to ensure our survival, are always anticipating how something will play out. And when our initial predictions are wrong, depending on the situation, we can feel anything from anger to surprise to frisson.

Thinking back to my experience of listening to Johnny Cash, it was at the precise moment the song “violated my expectations” that I felt frisson. When I anticipated that the song would decrescendo, it crescendoed even more. And, as Huron’s book discusses, the most reliable indicator of musical frisson is an increase in loudness.

Other reliable indicators include the entry of one or more instruments or voices; an abrupt change of tempo or rhythm; a new or unexpected harmony; and abrupt modulation. Music psychologist John Sloboda found that the most common types of musical phrases to elicit frisson were “chord progressions descending the circle of fifths to the tonic.” This is a deeply affecting chord progression common in many of Mozart’s compositions.

Some researchers have also noted how the “human scream” can induce musical frisson. Huron writes:

“The adult human scream displays a disproportionate amount of energy in the broad 0-6 kHz region, where human hearing is best. A human scream is the sound humans can hear at the greatest distance.”

There are few things more powerful (or traumatic) than a human scream, and professor William O. Beeman, in his work Making Grown Men Weep, notes how professional singers (particularly opera singers) exploit this auditory sensitivity.

No music on Mars: Sound is different on the red planet

Consider the soaring choruses in Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” or Adele’s “Hello” or John Lennon’s screams on The Beatles’ “Twist & Shout” (all featured on the playlist). Or listen to Merry Clayton’s legendary backing vocals on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”

On YouTube, there is a clip from the 2013 film 20 Feet From Stardom in which Clayton’s vocal track is isolated. If you scan the comments section, you will see many people citing Clayton’s vocal as the reason behind the song’s power — particularly the accidental crack in her voice as she screams “murder.” Her howls are activating a primal response in us.

It should be noted that there are many different disciplines outside of evolutionary biology that offer compelling explanations of frisson, ranging from the anthropological (Jeanette Bicknell’s Why Music Moves Us) to the ethnomusicological (Judith Becker’s Deep Listeners) to the psychosocial study of “emotional contagion” (Patrik Juslin’s “Toward a Unified Theory of Musical Emotions”).

And Huron’s “Contrastive Valence Theory” can help us better understand what is going on behind the scenes when we experience this profound emotional state.

By stimulating and exploiting our primitive threat-detection systems, music activates deeply embedded neural networks that have evolved over millions of years. It’s no wonder why we feel songs so deeply in our core: Music reminds us what it is like to be alive.

The Surprising Benefits Of Playing An Instrument For people of all Ages

The Surprising Benefits Of Playing An Instrument For people of all Ages

Reduce Stress, Learn faster, Improve Your Brain Function And So Much More…

written by Terry Stefan founder of

Long ago, when I picked up my first guitar, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I daydreamed about having a shiny gold Les Paul, just like all my favorite bands did. I wasn’t so much concerned with the benefits of playing guitar; I just wanted to look cool and learn my favorite songs.

Like so many new guitar players, I was quickly discouraged. All the concepts I was learning were challenging to master, my fingertips were killing me, and nothing was fun. I was ready to pack up my guitar and find a new hobby. Thankfully, I pressed on and kept learning. Twenty-something years later, I look back on how the guitar has made me a better person, and also that’s why I visit sites like Runthemusic to learn more about this.

Playing guitar isn’t just about learning an instrument. From your physical health to your mental health and beyond, the guitar can unlock a surprising array of benefits for you. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at all of them.

From physical health to mental health and beyond, instruments unlock an array of benefits.

Health Benefits

Beyond the fun of playing, the guitar can unlock many powerful benefits for your health.

Guitar As Therapy

Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, pick up your guitar and see if you don’t feel better after the first few minutes of playing. Playing an instrument has the power to relieve stress and anxiety and reduce cortisol.

Research shows that this type of activity has the power to short circuit the brains traditional responses to stress and anxiety. Instead of allowing those feelings to manifest, when you’re playing an instrument, you’ll be surprised to see how quickly they melt away when you’re stimulating yourself by playing an instrument.

The BBC further posits that playing an instrument can raise your white blood cell count. White blood cells are critical to effective immune system response, and it seems it may also affect your sympathetic nervous system, which regulates our stress responses.

For Your Heart Strings

The clear mental benefits of playing an instrument are great, but there’s so much more playing an instrument can do for you. Playing music also has implications for your heart health.

Berklee School of Music’s Chairperson, Suzanne Hanser espouses the benefits of playing an instrument for your health, especially for older people. Playing can help to lower your blood pressure and reduce your heart rate. A recent BMJ study suggests the same heart health benefits.

Research shows that making music can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate.

Mental And Cognitive Benefits

Perhaps the most impressive health benefits of learning guitar are the cognitive and psychological benefits associated with learning an instrument.

Playing An Instrument Staves Off Mental Degeneration

Playing an instrument can also keep your brain sharp, helping to stave off degenerative diseases that are common in older people, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. In fact, seniors who engage in the kind of engaging mental activities like playing an instrument can reduce their risk of developing these conditions by up to 75%.

Other activities such as brain games like crossword puzzles or chess also help slow or prevent Alzheimer’s, as does dancing. But, as a musician, I’d argue none of these activities are quite as fun or enriching as playing an instrument.

Playing an instrument can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimers and Dementia by up to 75%.

The Cognitive Benefits Of Playing An Instrument

The guitar is particularly unique, as it seems that the brain of a guitar player BEHAVES differently than non-musicians’ brains. In a 2012 study in Berlin, researchers concluded that the neural networks of different guitar players appear to synchronize while they’re playing a piece of music and that synchronization actually occurs before they even begin playing.

Further, it seems that guitar players can toggle between conscious thought and unconscious thought during solos and other difficult passages. This suggests that learning the guitar allows players to tap into the creative side of their brain, allowing their ideas and virtuosity to flow through them uninhibited.

Playing an instrument has also shown to have an incredible effect on the plasticity of our brains. Pat Martino, the renowned jazz guitarist, had a severe brain hemorrhage in his 30’s, prompting scientists to remove a significant portion of his left temporal lobe. While Pat recovered from surgery, unfortunately, his playing ability did not. He completed lost the ability to play.

Within two years, Pat was able to relearn his instrument completely, and he approached it with the same virtuosity he had before his injury. This incredible development suggests a significant link between brain plasticity and playing an instrument.

While these benefits exist for everyone, they’re especially profound for children. The science is in, and playing an instrument can help improve brain structure and development. For kids who get an early start on learning, it looks like an instrument can also help improve long-term memory.

Playing an instrument can enhance brain development and improve long-term memory.

Music and Childhood Development

It’s clear that children are one group that stands to benefit the most from musical instruction. Through music, children can unlock many powerful benefits including improved listening and comprehension skills, improved concentration, and better performance in other academic subjects.

Cognitive Effects

Merely listening to music can unlock powerful mental benefits, but perhaps the truest improvements occur when students engage in playing music or music therapy. According to a recent Frontiers in Neuroscience study, researchers found that children who participate in playing music were able to better develop their memory, comprehension and listening skills, and concentration.

Music and Math

The scholastic benefits don’t stop there. There’s also a large body of research which suggests that learning a musical instrument improves a child’s ability mathematical reasoning and ability.

When you think about it, this connection is a no-brainer. At its core, music is about math. Time signatures are math, the number of beats in a measure is math, and many of the concepts of the guitar are also closely tied to mathematics.

We know that learning an instrument can improve your cognitive abilities, and studies show that musicianship affects executive functioning. Executive functioning is an area of skill that closely related to mathematics, as well as the development of many skills that the professional world demands.

Learning a musical instrument improves a child’s ability mathematical reasoning and ability.

Music and Creativity

In general, every aspect of neural processing seems to be improved when children learn an instrument. Beyond these tangible mental benefits, there are also implications for the general development of the student.

When it comes to guitars as therapy, students who take up the guitar can unlock a new creative outlet, expand their knowledge of music, as well as themselves and others. Once a student is confident enough to begin performing for an audience, the guitar is the tool that allows them to step outside their comfort zone while expanding their horizons.

Instruments can also be an exciting way to limit your children’s screen time. Any parent can tell you; it sometimes feels like they’re losing a battle to the screens in their child’s life. I can’t think of a better way to provide an alternative to tv and digital devices than playing an instrument. It’s also a great way to get the whole household involved in the fun.

Other Mental Benefits

Beyond the powerful mental and cognitive benefits above, learning an instrument can teach you import lessons about time management, goal setting and accomplishment, diligence, and productivity. All these are tools you’ll be able to tap into in your professional life.

Practicing your instrument touches on each of these aspects of professional development. You’ll learn how to set goals for yourself in your practice time, and how to diligently attack those goals by managing the way you practice and the time you spend on different areas of your instrument.

When you accomplish your goals, you’ll also feel a powerful sense of accomplishment that will inspire you to keep practicing, learning, and growing.

Musical practice can help develop persistence, time management and discipline.

Physical Benefits

If we capped this article right here, there’s already an incredibly strong case to begin learning an instrument. But there are still so many additional benefits associated with learning an instrument; including the profound physical benefits related to learning the guitar.

First, there are the obvious benefits. Playing guitar is physically demanding on your hands, and over time, regular playing will help you improve the flexibility, dexterity, and strength of your hands and wrists. Playing will also improve your motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

One area where you stand to benefit that you may not have considered: playing the guitar can actually help relieve pain. When we’re playing music, our brain has the powerful ability to divert our attention away from what’s bothering us, i.e., physical pain, so we can instead focus on playing an instrument.

Still asking yourself “why should I learn to play guitar?” What if you knew that it could actually help you lose weight? Merely sitting and playing will help you burn a modest 145 calories an hour. But, if you play standing up, you can accelerate that to an impressive 217 calories per hour. This is just another powerful benefit of this helpful hobby.

Playing guitar can reduce pain, improve coordination and help you lose weight.

Emotional Benefits

One of the most visible effects of playing a musical instrument is in your emotional health and wellbeing. Ask anyone who has played the guitar for any amount of time, and they’ll be quick to tell you how their instrument helps them express themselves, find more joy in life, improves their self-confidence and more.

Music as Self-Expression

Playing an instrument provides you with a powerful form of self-expression. Whether you’re learning how to play your favorite songs, or writing your own compositions, there are few ways that offer such an opportunity to express yourself quite like learning an instrument can.

Ask a guitar player how they feel when they’re performing, and they’ll be quick to tell you about the happiness and joy they feel when they’re on stage. It’s true, hearing the crowd cheer and yell as you provide the soundtrack to their evening can be downright euphoric.

An instrument also has the power to improve your self-confidence. Few things have the ability to make you feel the way you do when you begin to learn new things, conquer pieces that were once too difficult for you, and share your music with friends and family.

By expressing yourself on a public platform, you’ll not only become more confident in your ability as a guitar player; you’ll become more confident in other aspects of your life, as well.

Music, Meditation, and Consciousness

Playing an instrument is also a great way to learn patience, and find inner peace. The act of learning an instrument is predicated on hours of repetition, discipline, and practice. At first, it can be easy to lose concentration and focus, but over time it’s something you learn to revel in.

While we’re on the idea of finding inner peace, playing an instrument is actually a powerful form of meditation. Cultures throughout the world have realized the power of playing music as meditation for centuries.

In their powerful book Music and Consciousness, David and Eric Clarke posit that music has played an influential role in their meditation practice.

“Music, used as an object of study and a series of training exercises, can have a regulatory, balancing effect on the mind. Like the breath, music can be deliberately used as a bridge between the voluntary and autonomic nervous systems … It moves beyond intellectual, conceptual, discursive thinking towards an emotional, sensual realm.”

Learning music can also teach you to exist firmly rooted in the moment, a practice that mindfulness has sought to unlock for many years. Spend an hour or so working through some of your favorite practice routines and you’ll quickly realize how connected music is to meditation and mindfulness.

Finding Fulfillment Through Learning Music

Finally, playing an instrument allows you to unlock a powerful sense of self-fulfillment and achievement. Few things in the world feel quite like mastering a new piece or tackling a new piece or practice routine that was above your ability the last time you tried to learn it.

Cultures throughout the world understand the power of playing music as meditation for centuries.

Social Benefits

One area where the benefits of learning guitar are most profound is in the social benefits of learning an instrument and participating in making music with others.

Connecting with Others Through Playing Music

Participants in the Music for Life project met with researchers at the University of London to discuss their experience playing music with others as part of the Music for Life project. The participants were quick to point out the social connections they were able to forge with other people through this project.

In addition to allowing them to make new connections and meet new people, they also experienced other benefits, such as friendship and camaraderie, collaborative learning, and even teaching.

Most musicians are able to make lifelong connections through the practice of playing music, and these bonds can lead to fulfillment in other areas of life, as well. The people you play music with exist as a strong support network that you can call on when you’re overwhelmed by other aspects of life.

Scientists have discovered that this type of bonding also results in increased production of oxytocin, which is known as “the love hormone.” In simpler terms, this type of social interaction triggers that warm and fuzzy feeling within your body, which has severe implications on how you’re feeling and thinking.

By playing music with others, not only are you learning yourself, but you’re also teaching, helping others feel good, and enjoying the company of like-minded individuals. Just ask the members of New Horizons Band, a New York-based band composed of musicians from all walks of life.

Based on their reporting to researchers at the University of Illinois, members of the band were thankful for the opportunities music has brought them, including the ability to learn and refine their craft. But most importantly, members spoke highly of the social implications of playing in the band.

Through the band, members were able to create new social bonds, find fulfillment as part of a team, and by helping others, and improve their own self-images in the process.

The Powerful Effect of Teaching Music

When people engage in playing music collaboratively, something special happens. Not only do the players improve their abilities, and learn how to play as part of an ensemble; the social aspect of playing together allows them to explore and develop in other areas.

Players who have already mastered a passage are quick to offer assistance to others. It’s common for them to discuss what they’ve learned and how to apply it with others after their session is complete. This kind of social bonding and camaraderie is one of the most important and useful aspects of learning an instrument.

Many musicians make lifelong bonds through playing music, which can translate to other areas of life, too.

Other Benefits

Sure, the mental, physical, and social benefits of playing the guitar are well documented, and each benefit is a compelling reason why you should pick up an instrument and begin to learn. But, there’s still plenty more benefits that you may be able to enjoy by playing an instrument, and these are the fun ones.

Money, Power, and Success

Oh yeah, now we’re talking! Maybe you picked up the guitar for some of the reasons we’ve discussed above. But, if you’re like most people, you bought into the dreams of adoration from the opposite sex, millions of dollars, and the screaming legions of 30,000 fans at every stop on your tour.

While it isn’t likely, all of those daydreams can come true. Popular musicians are often catapulted to national success in acclaim, and with that, they get to enjoy everything they’ve ever dreamed of. From the adoration of fans to the lucrative concert and promotional bookings, playing the guitar is one way to cement yourself in the annals of history.

Even if you don’t achieve quite that level of acclaim, working musicians everywhere can make a living from their passion, while also unlocking a world of new experiences as they travel throughout the country and the world.

You can learn a lot about yourself and others through the windows of a tour bus, and beyond the social implications of this type of living, it’s also a great way to broaden your horizons, and your exposure to new things.

Working musicians everywhere can make a living from their passion.

Cultural Implications

Another powerful aspect of learning to play the guitar is the exposure to other cultures throughout the world. If you’re looking to explore different cultures, there are few more effective ways to do so than through learning a musical instrument.

It’s one thing to read a book or take a class that focuses on a specific culture, but by learning an instrument, you’ll actually be able to immerse yourself in that culture.

One of the unique qualities of the guitar is that unlike many other instruments, guitar and similar stringed instruments have played a significant role in virtually every type of popular music from the last several centuries.

From classical to jazz, to rhythm and blues, rock, and hip hop, the guitar has left a lasting stamp on almost all popular music.

As a guitar player, you’re able to explore all of these different styles and the impact that they’ve had on cultures throughout the world.

American culture, in particular, has been forever changed by the growth and popularity of the guitar.

In the early 1900s, guitar graced the stage with ragtime and jazz bands and played a supporting role in the development of jazz and the culture surrounding it. As time went on, the guitar became a lead instrument, and its imprint on the genre was masterfully crafted by artists like Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and George Benson.

The guitar was also of paramount importance to the delta blues musicians of the early 20th century. This distinctly American music paved the way for the future of everything from pop to rock to r&b and hip hop.

It’s also interesting to explore how our culture is interconnected to other cultures throughout the world. The pentatonic scale, which is the framework of blues and many current pop styles in America is also found throughout centuries of Japanese music.

Even if you just explored the history and culture of America through playing the guitar, you’d have years and years of practice and learning ahead of you. For most musicians, you never stop exploring and learning about yourself and the world and culture around you through the lens of your guitar.

If you’re looking to explore different cultures, there are few more effective ways to do so than through learning a musical instrument.

Did I Mention…

There are still so many more reasons to play the guitar!

For one, even if you never become rich and famous as a musician, it’s still the easiest way to feel like a rockstar, if only for a short time. Through the guitar, you can learn to play just like your idols; you can learn their songs and style and interpret it in your own way through learning and practicing.

Guitar players also have great looking homes. The guitar itself is a work of art that’s rivaled by few things in the world, and they make some of the best decor for any room. Whenever you’re not playing, hang your guitars up on the wall for an instant conversation piece, and to add warmth, style, and personality to your living space.

Playing the guitar is also a great way to think back on your own memories. Music is a powerful connector. I’m sure you have certain songs that when you hear them, memories wash over you. That feeling is also powerful when you’re playing your old favorites and classics.

Best of all, learning to play the guitar is a skill that you’ll be able to carry with you forever. What may begin as a simple hobby can grow into a lifelong skill that helps you learn and grow personally, socially, and professionally.

Above all, it’s fun! I can’t think of many better ways to spend an afternoon than with my guitar, practicing, learning, and playing for my own enjoyment or the enjoyment of others.


The benefits of playing guitar are widespread, and they can have a profound effect on virtually every aspect of your life. Considering all these benefits, it’s hard to find a hobby or activity that’s able to provide as much enrichment as playing the guitar.

From the cognitive and mental benefits that everyone can unlock to the improvements that musical children see in their other scholastic subjects, learning an instrument has powerful implications for your brain’s development and fitness.

Beyond the brain, there are also many physical benefits associated with playing the guitar. Learning the guitar can help you reduce your blood pressure, improve your overall heart health, and boost your immunity. Plus, it’s a powerful form of therapy.

Then, there are the personal benefits. Learning guitar provides a limitless creative outlet, allowing you to express yourself while providing a boost in confidence, and powerful feelings of accomplishment and joy.

Socially, learning an instrument can profoundly affect your social life and your relationship with others while also providing a strong sense of fulfillment.

If all these reasons aren’t compelling enough, the benefits of playing guitar are well documented with regard to history, culture, and more. Taking up the guitar is a fun and enriching way to learn about your culture, and cultures throughout the world.

Whatever your reasons, playing guitar is one of the best ways to improve your health, wellbeing, and so much more.

How Does Music Affect Your Brain?

How Does Music Affect Your Brain?

people at rock concert

Throw on some headphones, crank up the tunes, and what happens? Your toes and fingers start to tap. Maybe your head and shoulders begin to bob. Pretty soon, you might be on your feet, busting a move, joyously belting out the lyrics. Music has taken over, and your body is now along for the ride.

While it may be obvious that music impacts you physically, understanding how music and the brain interact requires deep study and an ability to probe the mysteries of the human mind. The result is a fascinating picture of the role music can play in brain development, learning, mood, and even your health. Dive into cognitive studies, and read on to learn exactly how music affects your brain.

Music, Your Brain, & Wellbeing

person looking through music records

One of the first things that happens when music enters our brains is the triggering of pleasure centers that release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy. This response is so quick, the brain can even anticipate the most pleasurable peaks in familiar music and prime itself with an early dopamine rush.

Beyond simply making you feel good, however, there’s evidence that music can even be good for your health. Research has shown that listening to music is associated with upticks in immunity-boosting antibodies and cells that protect against bacteria and other invaders. Music has also proven to be effective across a variety of treatment scenarios for conditions ranging from premature birth to depression to Parkinson’s disease.

Even in terms of brain development, music can play a key role. Training to play an instrument, for instance, is believed to increase gray matter volume in certain areas of the brain, not unlike how physical exercise can tone and enlarge muscles. As a result, musicians often experience improvement in brain functions like:

  • Auditory processing
  • Learning
  • Memory

If you’re ready to learn how to play a new instrument at home, start by finding a new or used instrument that interests you. Check sites like Craigslist or head over to your local thrift shop or instrument store to find options like pianos, flutes, guitars, banjos, and more. Then, look up free tutorial videos online to start learning. Some great online resources available to teach you how to play the instrument of your choice include:

Does Genre Matter?

rock band lead singer

Many of the beneficial effects of music on the brain are not limited to any single genre. Whether you’re listening to the smooth jazz styling of Billie Holiday on vinyl, the classic country sounds of Johnny Cash on YouTube, or The Beatles and their powerful British Invasion rock music on Spotify, different styles can produce the same results – as long as they align with your musical preferences. In this way, it’s the brain’s relationship with familiar and favored music that is key.

In other cases, the style of music can play a role. When it comes to the best music for learning, for example, experts recommend different genres for different purposes. Upbeat music, including songs with positive lyrics, can provide an energy boost and get your brain primed for learning. Once it’s time to buckle down and concentrate, however—like when you need to read, write, or study your course materials, instrumental music and soothing genres can help you stay calm and focused. Ultimately, however, each person may develop an approach to studying and music that’s uniquely suited for them. For more on this topic, check out courses in psychology that explore the inner workings of the human mind.

Some places you may be able to find new music include:

  • Spotify
  • Pandora
  • YouTube
  • MoodFuse
  • SoundCloud

If you’d prefer to study to gentle or ambient sounds instead, download apps like Rainy Mood or A Soft Murmur to help you focus.

Experiencing New Music

hands playing the piano

There are other ways you can learn about new music without plugging in your headphones. Take part in any of the following activities to explore different types of music:

  • Go to open mic nights in your community
  • Attend local concerts in your area
  • Ask your friends and family for music recommendations on your social media and have them share their favorite songs, playlists, or genres
  • Use different tools like Pandora, Spotify, MoodFuse, to find new music
  • Use apps like Shazam to help you remember the music you hear while you’re out, so you can go home and download it later

Whether you play an instrument, listen to your music streaming app, or enjoy going to live concerts, music is having an active influence on your brain. Understanding how music and the mind interact, and how to fine-tune your music consumption for maximum impact, can have an effect on the way you feel, think, study and more. So, put in your headphones, start your favorite album, and feel your dopamine levels rising. For a deeper understanding of music and how the body works in general, explore an online degree in psychology or cognitive studies.

best weight loss supplements should be added to your diet, and for better performance in muscle wasting and muscle repair tests, you should take a high-intensity muscle spataly test and a mixed regimen of insulin, biphenhydramine or diazolidinediones. These are also an important test of your performance to see if you’re able to maintain your current diet if needed, so keep this in mind when choosing which supplements to take for muscle and other muscle conditions in the health-minded dietitian.

Written by Ashford University staff.

Piano Lessons And The Brain

Piano Lessons And The Brain

We all know music is kind of magic. It has the power to tap directly into our emotions, and ignite our imaginations. It can make us bust a move, or move us to tears, sometimes in the course of a single song. But that’s not all it can do.

There’s growing scientific evidence that shows learning to play an instrument—and piano in particular—can actually make you smarter, happier, and healthier. The cognitive demands of learning piano could help with everything from planning skills and language development to reducing anxiety and even boosting memory!

Taking piano lessons comes with some great benefits. Are you ready to start learning the Piano? At Music Academy of Texas, we have instructors specializing in each of the phases you will go through, from beginner to advanced.


Infographic from Encore Music Lessons

1. Piano Players Are Master Multitaskers

Learning to play piano means teaching your brain how to work on overdrive. Think about all the individual tasks your brain has to perform simultaneously: keeping time, following pitch, forming chords, maintaining posture and controlling your breath, all while your right and left hands are operating independently from each other while ranging over 88 identical little black and white buttons. Also, you might be operating the pedals and reading and interpreting sheet music too. Every time you sit down to play piano, you’re giving your brain a monster workout, exercising your logical, creative, visual, auditory, emotional, and motor functions.

2. Learning Piano Actually Builds Brain Power

The mental demands of piano are so significant that players’ brains are structured differently than other people’s. Breakthroughs in brain imaging have shown that playing piano strengthens the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and makes the connections in the frontal lobe much more efficient. According to Mic that means pianists may have a serious leg up in terms of “problem solving, language, spontaneity, decision making and social behavior.”

3. Musicians Really Do Think Outside the Box

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have discovered that musicians are innately proficient in a creative technique they call “divergent thinking, which is the ability to come up with new solutions to open-ended, multifaceted problems.” Their work suggests that because playing music enhances communication between parts of the brain, musicians literally think about complex problems differently, and come up with more creative solutions.

4. Learning to Play Piano Is Beneficial at Any Age

While learning piano at a young age is a great way to develop discipline, self-esteem, and academic skills, it’s never too late to benefit from the power of playing. Adults who learn to play piano experience a decrease in depression, fatigue, and anxiety and an increase in memory, verbal communication, and a feeling of independence. Playing piano can also help alleviate symptoms of dementia, PTSD, and stroke, by improving cognition and dexterity, and reducing stress.

Tickling the ivories may not give you superpowers, but it’s clear that learning to play piano is one of the most powerful ways to exercise your mind, and soothe your soul.