Why does a certain kind of music move us? And why do other sounds leave us feeling completely cold? Why does some music cause aggressive sentiments to well up in us? Musicologists answer this question by pointing to a complex interplay of hormones released by the body. Music has a direct effect on our brain. It activates the limbic system in the diencephalon, where music that we like increases the release of the happiness hormone endorphin. The pituitary gland also reacts: fast music has an energising influence whereas slow music has a soothing effect.

The medical field also makes full use of our body’s immediate reaction to the uncontrollable functions of the body. In fact, music therapy has been increasingly appreciated in recent years. Messenger substances that are released by listening to music subconsciously influence our vital parameters. Our favourite music can lead to increased release of serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. At the same time, the level of the stress hormone cortisol decreases. Good news for chronic pain sufferers: your attention will shift from pain to music. The limbic system in the diencephalon is not only the origin of our emotions, but also of our pain. In short, music literally drowns out your pain.

Numerous studies demonstrate the relaxing and calming effect of music before, during and after surgeries. Music as a non-pharmacological treatment can be used in many ways: from Parkinson’s to dementia, from strokes and autism to oncology, psychiatry and obstetrics. The effect of music on C-section patients was investigated in a study conducted in India in 2018. Relaxing music was played to one group during surgery with epidural anaesthesia, but not to the control group. After the C-section, the music group experienced significantly less pain than the control group. By the way, hearing loss was considered an exclusion criterion in this study. [1]

My Beautiful Music – Your Beautiful Music

What music do we find beautiful and why? Whether a person gets goosebumps from classical music or heavy metal or just finds them to be making a racket depends primarily on their individual preferences and habits. It all comes down to this: we like what we are familiar with. Music is closely interwoven with our culture. For western ears, music from the Near East sounds unusual. Of course, the reverse is also true. Southeast Asians find European music strange and exhausting. However, if you listen to so-called ‘unfamiliar music often enough, you will gradually begin to like it. This is because our auditory memory can be trained for anything – for Mozart’s symphonies and dissonant music alike.

Music is embedded into our brains from early childhood. After all, hearing is the first sense that develops in the foetus. The inner ear with its important hair cells is already formed by the 16th-23rd week of pregnancy.

[1] Intraoperative Meditation Music as an Adjunct to Subarachnoid Block for the Improvement of Postoperative Outcomes Following Cesarean Section: A Randomized Placebo-controlled Comparative Study. Kurdi MS, Gasti V. Anesth Essays Res. 2018 Jul-Sep;12(3):618-624.