What music really does to your brain

What music really does to your brain


norman lebrecht

January 17, 2011

An awful lot of wishful thinking and amateur b-s gets written about music and the brain, resulting in such mass delusions as the Mozart Effect and feeding in to the mass hysteria of the X-Factor.

Very little scientific evidence is available on what music does to the brain and which kind of music might promote a beneficial effect. Every new piece of evidence is eagerly awaited, which explains why my day got off to a late start, watching neurosurgeon and musician Charles Limb on TED playing private games with his brain scanner. 
It’s compelling stuff, worth a quarter-hour of your lunch break, but the results are tentative and the conclusions elusive. This, for me, is science in action – at its most frustrating.
Can Mahler save your life? Hmmmm… 
Here’s the link:


  • David Snyder says:

    Well, it’s been alleged that Mahler wondered if some of Das Lied Von Der Erde might cause people to end their lives…

  • Marie Lamb says:

    Re Mahler’s possible effects on longevity, a former colleague at WCNY used to say, “Mahler’s symphonies make you live longer; at least, it seems longer!” 😉 (Actually, I hope they do have such an effect, and that it can be proven with more scientific justification than all the conclusions people jumped to about the “Mozart effect.”)
    Aside from that, Norman, thank you for the link to the video! At WCNY, we have a radio reading service for the blind, and the man who does our science show (also a jazz clarinetist) read a short item about this, but didn’t have much more about it for me. I’m glad to have the chance to learn about this in more detail. It’s fascinating for me because I’ve sung Baroque music where my teacher had me improvise my own embellishments, I was in jazz radio for years, and I have a nephew who performs rap music. Amazing how these things work in the brain and have certain similarities! I have shared this with my Facebook friends, many of whom are classical or jazz musicians; I’m sure this will intrigue them, too! This is definitely worthy of further study.