Song Research


To have a solid understanding of the neurological impact of different elements of a song and what defines a popular, effective song. Specifically to have a breakdown of the parts of the brain that respond positively to songs, and what defines effective music.

Early Findings

  • The brain has a complex relationship with music in general. For example, when a song is first heard, it activates the auditory cortex and we then convert the rhythms, melodies, and harmonies into an understandable whole. From that point on, how a person reacts depends solely on how they interact with it. If a person decides to sing along to a song in their head, they will activate their premotor cortex, which is the area of the brain that helps plan and coordinate movements. If that same person also decides to dance to the song, their neurons will synchronize with the beat of the music. Further, if that person then starts to pay close attention to the lyrics and instrumentation, they will activate their parietal cortex, which helps shift and maintain attention to different stimuli. If a person listens to a song that makes them recall personal memories, the prefrontal cortex, which maintains information relevant to personal life and relationships, will be activated.
  • Images of the brain show that a persons favorite songs will activate the brain’s pleasure connections, which in turn releases a rush of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other neurochemicals that make a person feel good. In fact, the more a person likes a song, the more they get treated to "neurochemical bliss", exposing the brain with some of the same neurotransmitters that cocaine chases after.
  • Scientists in Germany and Norway, analyzed 80,000 chords in 745 songs listed in the US Billboard 'Hot 100' chart between 1958 and 1991. Then they removed elements including lyrics and melody from the songs. They then looked at the brain activity of 79 study participants listening to them, using a technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). "They found that brain activity increased in three regions: the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the auditory cortex, when the test subjects were listening to music." These regions play a role in processing emotions, learning and memory, and processing sound, respectively.
  • Music influences mood, and scientists have played pop songs like New Order's “Bizarre Love Triangle” and Sinéad O'Connor's “Nothing Compares 2 U” to arouse joy or sadness in subjects during psychological studies.
  • Even when there are no lyrics, music can carry very strong emotional meaning. Beats automatically activate motor areas of the brain, according to magnetic resonance imaging studies, and propel our bodies to move spontaneously to the rhythm. "Therefore, fast-tempo songs are directly associated with more energy, movement, and dancing, which are typically linked to being in a joyful state."
  • A study from 2014 examined the potential power of music to soothe away symptoms of road rage, finding that low-energy songs significantly decreased systolic blood pressure during a simulated traffic jam. So while easygoing songs like The Temptations' “Just My Imagination” had this calming effect on drivers, peppy tunes such as Depeche Mode's “Just Can't Get Enough” did not.
  • Carly Rae Jepson's song "Call Me Maybe" was, unquestionably, "the proverbial song of the summer" in 2012. To understand what it is that makes it so catchy, Ollie Cole of the BIMM Dublin music academy explains that it is because of the tempo, the ‘hook upon hook’, the technical production, the notes, and something very slightly unexpected. "Speaking to ABC News, marketing professor James J Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati cites the crazy/maybe half-rhyme in the chorus of Call me Maybe as the key incongruity that grabs your ear. The rhymes have been so consistent, you don’t expect that variation. There’s also the difference between the imperative of ‘Call Me’ and the uncertainty of ‘Maybe’, all in all, it’s "a perfect storm for cognitive itch."
  • According to Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International, listening to the song Weightless resulted in a 65 percent reduction in a study's participants' overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates. "The group that created "Weightless", Marconi Union, did so in collaboration with sound therapists. Its carefully arranged harmonies, rhythms, and bass lines help slow a listener's heart rate, reduce blood pressure and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol."
  • In addition to this public search, we scanned our proprietary research database of over 1 million sources and were unable to find any specific research reports that address the stated goals.

Summary Of Our Early Findings Relevant To The Goals

  • Our first hour of research provided several insights into the neurological impact of different elements of a song and a breakdown of the parts of the brain that respond positively to songs. Additionally, we provided a case study of one popular song and why it was so catchy, and we provided a case study of a song that reduced anxiety by listening to it.
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