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How Our Brains Respond To Music

Multiple sound sources often create “noise” that muddy our brain’s ability to single out and process specific sounds. That is especially true with sounds at varying decibels and wavelengths, similar to the illustration of a busy city street.

Music, however, is both a simple sound and a complex amalgamation of different sounds. Yet — when properly arranged — the human brain is able to receive that signal and then separate the individual instruments and vocals. It can also recognize specific music chords or notes, understand multiple sets of lyrics, and physically react to the beat, all at the same time.

Those levels of complexity add to the artfulness of music and how songs are composed and arranged to generate emotions and pleasure. But before we can explore the art of music and the different ways it can be used to improve our lives, we need to understand the many ways that music interacts with our brains.

Scientists have singled out a dozen different areas of the brain that respond to music, but five regions have the most significant impact on the listener. They are the:

  • Temporal lobe
  • Amygdala
  • Frontal lobe
  • Cerebellum
  • Hippocampus

We’ll look at each of these separately to see how sound (and specifically music) can affect the brain’s natural physiological purpose.

The temporal lobe serves a variety of roles, and one of them is language comprehension. This plays an important part in how we hear and react to the world around us, particularly in regards to conversation.

As our brain’s language center, the temporal lobe allows us to understand song lyrics. The temporal lobe is constantly engaged when we listen to music — even songs without lyrics.

The temporal lobe functions as the processing center for music, but two of its subregions allow us to further enjoy what we hear. Wernicke’s area is the part of the brain that analyzes and comprehends what we hear, turning the words of a song into specific phrases and stories.

Meanwhile, Broca’s area gives us the ability to form our words ourselves so we can sing along with the music or discuss what we are hearing.