How Music Genres Affect the Brain

Music and it’s different genres can physically and mentally affect different people in different ways. However, as Plato said:

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”

Therefore, although we may react to different music genres in our own way, in terms of music in general, we are all affected by it in the same way.

The Brain when Listening to Music

Before I continue with the different genres of music, here’s a brief explanation of how our brains work when we listen to music, alongside a diagram to help understand the process easier. First thing that has to be noted, is that there are four main parts of the brain: frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, and occipital lobe. When music enters, these four parts all work on different aspects, making them engaged; this is because with music, so many elements are changing all the time. So “music doesn’t follow one path through the brain in a fixed way“, otherwise the brain wouldn’t know what to focus on and when. Moreover, this is a basic idea of how the brain works during music:

  1. When the music first enters the brain, the cerebellum and auditory cortex work in conjunction to split the basic parts of music; pitch aHuman Brain Diagramnd volume.
  2. The emotions we feel when listening to music are controlled by the amygdala which causes a reaction.
  3. The cerebellum connects the basic parts of music to the amygdala leading to a dopamine rush (i.e. “when
    we feel pleasure from a song and get chills at a particular section of a song“.)
  4. This emotional response that we feel is then controlled by the caudate.







Different Music Genres = Different Effects?

According to research, despite the fact that we all have our own preferences of different music genres, all genres have a synchronised effect on our brains.

Music can effect the brain in different ways:

  1. De-stress and heal – with soothing music.
  2. Boost your immune – upbeat music can release endorphins which make your happy and can as a result relieve stress as well.
  3. Better exercise – upbeat music during runs or slow paced during walks, music can make it fun and also improve your immune response as your heart is in sync with the tempo.
  4. Meditation – rhythmic drumming and soothing music can put you in a trance-like state.
  5. Memory recall – linked to the Mozart Effect (explained under classic music).
  6. Anti-anxiety.
  7. Helps with fatigue and boredom.
  8. Improve your mood.

Pop, Rap, Country and Reggae

These genres all have similar effects on the brain. They’re repetitive and catchy, making it easier to constantly playback in your head and bother you. The auditory cortex sends signals to the brain and the brain processes that the music has a rhythmic beat which makes the person want to dance originaland/or sing; thus causing a distraction.

These genres get the blood pumping and actually makes you less calm. Whe
n the music is fast paced, you want to dance and/or sing as a result. When the music is slow paced, the amygdala tells you to feel the emotion that you’re feeling when listening to the music (i.e. happy, sad or angry).


Stressed? Feeling depressed? Having suicidal thoughts? Metal music is believed to help cope with these feelings. The reason is mainly due to the loud growls and screams as well as the tempo and drumbeats of the music, causing ur brains to ‘boom’ with messages.

The Huffington Post mentions that research suggests that listening to heavy metal can help make people calmer, especially angry listeners.



In 1993, there was a study called the ‘Mozart Effect’ where they discovered that classical music could make a child smarter. Classical music releases stress hormones and causes a dopamine rush due to the calmness and pleasure felt by the listener. Unlike pop or rap music, classic music is more complex with different sections and comes up with new ideas instead of repetition. Study also shows that this genre can help improve visual attention in stroke patients. When testing this out, silence actually resulted in the worst scores.

Video & Podcast

Click here for a link to an interesting online podcast explaining how ‘Different Brain Regions Handle Different Music Types’.

Below is a video of Cognitive Neuroscientist, Jessica Grahn, giving a talk about ‘Music and the Brain’ at TEDx Talks.

An interesting study held by the University of Cambridge discovered a way to reveal how people’s brains work according to their music taste.

Everyone may react to music differently. I listen to different music genres myself, but the most common are Rap, Old school, RnB and African Dancehall. I never really bothered listening to classic music but I decided to give it a try and it definitely helped me study or read better whereas other music genres distracted me. However, other people can have the opposite effect, so it really depends from person to person.

So music definitely shapes or helps our brains one way or another. Patrick Wong, author of a study called “Bimusicality” suggests that people should start listening to different genres:

“If you are bimusical, you tend to engage a larger network of the brain when you listen to the two kinds of music”.

But either way, music has many benefits it’s a universal language. So keep listening to music, keep your good vibes going, and release those endorphins!

Reference List

» How Music Affects the Brain: the Power of Music. (2012). Retrieved 15 May 2016, from

Abrams, D., Ryali, S., Chen, T., Chordia, P., Khouzam, A., Levitin, D., & Menon, V. (2013). Inter-subject synchronization of brain responses during natural music listening. European Journal Of Neuroscience37(9), 1458-1469.

Barnes, T. (2015). Here’s What Happens Inside Your Brain When You Listen to Music, in 3 Mind-Blowing GIFsMic. Retrieved 15 May 2016, from

Cooper, B. (2013). 8 Surprising Ways Music Affects the BrainSocial. Retrieved 15 May 2016, from

Gallagher, D. (2015). Your music taste might reveal how your brain worksCNET. Retrieved 15 May 2016, from

Lightner, A. (2015). How Does Music Affect Your Brain? | SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and Retrieved 15 May 2016, from

Plato Quotes at BrainyQuote.comBrainyQuote. Retrieved 15 May 2016, from

Reporter, T. (2015). ‘Mozart effect’: can classical music really make your baby smarter? Retrieved 15 May 2016, from

Research shows listening to different musical genres leaves lasting impact on brain. (2012). Public Radio International. Retrieved 15 May 2016, from

Tsai, P., Chen, M., Huang, Y., Lin, K., Chen, K., & Hsu, Y. (2013). Listening to Classical Music Ameliorates Unilateral Neglect After Stroke. American Journal Of Occupational Therapy67(3), 328-335.

Visser, N. (2015). Listening To Heavy Metal May Actually Make You CalmerThe Huffington Post. Retrieved 15 May 2016, from

Wilkinson, A. (2014). Different Brain Regions Handle Different Music TypesScientific American. Retrieved 15 May 2016, from

Zavar, B. (2016). How different genres of music effect your Retrieved 15 May 2016, from


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