Emotional Impact of Music 

The Biology of Music

Music may soothe the troubled breast. It might even be the food of love. But how does it cast its spell? Romantics can take comfort from the fact that science does not yet have all the answers. But it has some.
When philosophers debate what it is that makes humans unique among animals, they often point to language. Other animals can communicate, of course. But despite the best efforts of biologists working with beasts as diverse as chimpanzees, dolphins and parrots, no other species has yet shown the subtleties of syntax that give human languages their power.  There is, however, another sonic medium that might be thought uniquely human, and that is music. Other species can sing (indeed, many birds do so better than a lot of people). But birdsong, and the song of animals such as whales, has a limited repertoire—and no other animal is known to have developed a musical instrument.

Music is strange stuff. It is clearly different from language. People can, nevertheless, use it to communicate things—especially their emotions. And when allied with speech in a song, it is one of the most powerful means of communication that humans have. But what, biologically speaking, is it?  Music’s effect on the outer layers of the brain—the temporal and even the visual cortex—is only half the story, however. These are the places in which the signal is being dissected and processed. The place where it is having its most profound effect is in the brain’s emotional core—the limbic system.

From The Biology of Music - http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Music_00.html

From Mind's Eye to Emotion's Seat

HUMPBACK WHALES use many of the same rhythms and patterns as human composers in their songs, tempting some scientists to speculate that a universal music awaits discovery.

"Music goes much deeper than that—below the outer layers of the auditory and visual cortex to the limbic system, which controls our emotions. The emotions generated there produce a number of well-known physiological responses. Sadness, for instance, automatically causes pulse to slow, blood pressure to rise, a drop in the skin's conductivity and a rise in temperature. Fear increases heart rate; happiness makes you breathe faster. By monitoring such physical reactions, Carol Krumhansl of Cornell University demonstrated that music directly elicits a range of emotions. Music with a quick tempo in a major key, she found, brought about all the physical changes associated with happiness in listeners. In contrast, a slow tempo and minor key led to sadness. 

From Music and the Brain: Processing and Responding - http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro99/web1/Sancar.html 

horizontal rule

Emotional Intelligence


Daniel Goleman wrote "Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ."  Goleman describes emotional intelligence as "a different way of being smart. It includes knowing what your feelings are and using your feelings to make good decisions in life. It's being able to manage distressing moods well and control impulses. It's being motivated and remaining hopeful and optimistic when you have setbacks in working toward goals. It's empathy; knowing what the people around you are feeling. And it's social skill--getting along well with other people, managing emotions in relationships, being able to persuade or lead others.

He describes the "physiology of the brain and the relationship between the emotional brain and the brain's executive areas....The prefrontal lobes just behind the forehead are where working memory resides. Working memory is what you are paying attention to at any given point. So everything you are mulling over, making a decision about, or are learning, is at first in working memory. All learning is in working memory. And the emotional centers that control moods like anxiety or anger have very strong connections to the prefrontal areas. So if a child is chronically anxious or angry or upset in some way, he experiences that as intruding thoughts. He can't keep his mind off the thing he is worried about."  See the limbic system.

Emotional Intelligence Skills  (Jensen lists specific research conducted on each of the following skills in his book - Music with the Brain in Mind)

bulletIdentifying and labeling feelings
bulletExpressing feelings appropriately
bulletUnderstanding and managing feelings
bulletControlling impulses and gratification
bulletReducing Stress
bulletKnowing the difference between feelings and actions.
bulletSee website resources below.

Effects of Music on Emotions

bulletExposure, may help children identify and manage their emotional states. 
bulletEnhances ability in children to detect emotion.
bulletTeaching how to listen to music (for tone, rhythm, pitch, volume, lyrics, etc.) may increase their attention and focus.
bulletMay foster self-confidence.
bulletCan be used to regulate mood by altered states. 
bulletEnabled students to draw out, relax, unify, and perform in social interactions. 
bulletImproved engagement and socialization
bulletMusic has mood-enhancing effects.
bulletThe emotive-aesthetic experience is important as listening and appreciation skills improve.


Brainwave Cycles Per Second (CPS) Brainwave Activity
1-4 cps deep sleep state
4-7 cps twilight zone - half awake and half asleep
8-12 cps relaxed alertness, reflection, calm, prepared
12-25 cps busy classroom activities, discussion
Super Beta (no example) 25+ cps intensity, drama, exercise, simulations


Music and Relaxation (from Jensen)

bulletThere's a strong connection between the mind and the body.
bulletMusic modulates our body's stress responses.
bulletMusic can decrease or increase stress levels.
bulletMusic is a strong and powerful mood enhancer.
bulletMusic strengthens our immune systems and enhances wellness. 
bulletSounds connect us to our sympathetic and parasympathetic (stress/distress response) nervous systems.  
bulletMusic impacts blood flow in the body.
bulletEvidence exists that music can be helpful in healing.
bulletPossible Explanation - Music can help the body get back in synch since the body emits and responds to sounds and vibrations.  
bulletNatural state of rest - 8 cycles per second (8 cps) - corresponding with alpha brainwave state
bulletEvery function in the body has a modifiable, basic rhythmic pattern and vibratory rate that impacts our nerves through sound.
bulletBody is maintained through rhythmic vibration.
bulletChanges in harmonic patterns, tonal sequences, rhythmic patterns might affect physical and mental health.


bulletThe Autonomic Nervous System - Kid's Neuroscience Website - http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/auto.html 
bulletMusic Reduces Stress in Surgery Patients - Kid's Neuroscience Website - http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/surgm.html 
bulletMy Body - Kid's Health - http://kidshealth.org/kid/body/mybody.html 
bulletAmerican Music Therapy Association - http://www.musictherapy.org/ 
bullet Music Therapy - http://www.holistic-online.com/stress/stress_music-therapy.htm  

horizontal rule

The Mozart Effect

A controversial study of University of California Irvine students was conducted to determine if students who listened to Mozart's Sonata K. 448 for ten minutes prior to testing had higher test scores than those of a control group.  

Some results of the "Mozart Effect" 

bulletEvidence has been reported in 26 of 27 studies that were done to duplicate the effect.
bulletEffect is cross-species (occurs in rats brains as well), 
bulletMusic impacts neural firing patterns in epileptics as demonstrated in PET scans (improved spatial reasoning)
bulletEffect present in preschoolers and not dependant on musical talent
bulletEEG Studies demonstrated enhanced synchronization of neuronal firing activity of the right frontal and left temporal-parietal areas compared to students listening to a story.

horizontal rule

Music Activities in the Classroom that Impact Emotions 

(From Jensen - Music with the Brain in Mind)

Alpha brainwaves are commonly recorded when one is quiet and relaxed.  Music can induce this state and activate a kind of creative daydreaming.  Usually the eyes are closed Alpha waives  are formed in the frequency of 8-12 cycles per second.  This state is induced with a slower beat.  


Beta brainwaves are the most common type of brain activity recorded in normal conscious states.  These brainwaves  undulate from 18-40 cycles per second.  Beta means "active."  You can induce this state with very upbeat music, such as pop, rock, or up tempo instrumentals.  Some classical, jazz, and dance selections qualify as well.


Theta brainwaves are often recorded in states of high creativity.  These waves are formed at 4-7 cycles per second.  This state is the twiglight zone between sleep and wakefulness.  This music maintains a very ethereal slow beat.


bulletMusic for Arousal Effect 
bulletUsed to enhance and accelerate learning
bulletChange in EEG brain activity and pulse rate
bulletEngage multiple memory pathways and increase receptivity
bulletArousal states - calm, curious, expectant, energize, or mystify
bulletBackground Music
bulletSounds from nature to soothe 
bulletProvide unobtrusive background accompaniment
bulletRelaxing waterfall, ocean, rainforest sounds
bulletNon-distracting sounds or music
bulletEstablish a positive mode, state, tone, theme
bulletPrepare for subsequent learning.
bulletBreak down barriers between individuals
bulletSelections from various cultures
bulletSimple law of sound and distance - twice the distance, sounds must be 4 times louder
bulletMusic at moderate volume level
bulletFocused Concentration
bulletMusic in major key
bulletTempo usually 65-80 beats per minute
bulletPredictable rhythm 
bulletSymmetrical form
bulletConsistent volume level
bulletNo distracting variances or vocals
bulletOften Jazz or Baroque music will meet these criteria
bulletMusic for mentally shifting gears
bulletMusical interludes that mentally move you from one scene to another
bulletCombine music with stretching for perfect transition activity
bulletPunctuate an Activity
bulletStrengthen the emotional state of a theme
bulletCleaning up to William Tell's Overture 
bulletPiano or harp selection while stretching
bulletState Management
bulletEvoke curiosity (Peter and the Wolf Theme)
bulletPromote creativity
bulletFanfares for celebration
bulletAccent a mood of anticipation (Jaws)
bulletMusic as a Primer
bulletMozart Effect
bulletEffective primer:
bulletHave a target task in mind
bulletExpose learner to specific piece of music for at least 10 minutes
bulletBegin target task within 5 minutes 

Helping Students Understand Musical Impact 

bulletNoticing Sensations - Invite them to notice comforting sensations in their body - pleasant heaviness, warmth, calm, steadiness, etc.
bulletProgressive Relaxation - Ask student to visualize thier feet, ankles, calves, knees, and so on, successively relaxing each area of the body.
bulletTension Release - Have learners tense and hold rigid successive body parts for a few seconds at a time - then let go of the tension seeing the tension leave their body.
bulletPhysical Relaxation - Help them induce a state of relaxation that increases receptivity.  
bulletSemi-guided Imagery - Ask learners to close their eyes as you describe a peaceful setting.  Invite the learners to let their imagination finish the story.
bulletUnguided Imagery - Encourage your students to allow their imaginations to take flight stimulated by the images and emotional nuances in the music.
bulletImage Streaming - Have student describe images, thought, impressions, feelings, associations, etc. in a journal or to a partner or into a tape recorder.

Music to Use in the Classroom

Classical Music MIDI and Audio Files

bulletClassical Music Audio Files
bulletGreat Collection of Real Audio Files you can access online - http://www.classicsforkids.com/teachers/audio/music.asp 
bulletLesson Plans - http://www.classicsforkids.com/teachers/lessonplans/ 
bulletClassical Music MIDI Archives - http://www.classicalarchives.com  
bulletMIDI music files of all composers - http://www.classical.net/music/links/midiarch.html 
bulletClassical Music MIDI files - http://www.midiworld.com/classic.htm 

Songs for Teaching Audio Files -  http://www.songsforteaching.com/ 

bulletUsing Music in Classroom Management
bulletSee our music for classroom 
bulletPositive Attitudes.
bulletAction Songs that Call for Physical Movement - Research indicates that children learn best when they can be physically active!
bulletSocial and Emotional Learning
bulletCharacter and Conflict Resolution
bulletFamily Life

Sounds of Nature

bulletNature Songs - http://www.naturesongs.com/ 
bulletRelaxing Sounds of Nature - http://sulger.net/soundsculptures/ 
bulletNature Sound Studio - http://www.naturesound.com/corepage/core.html 

New Age Music Instrumentals

bulletPiano Meditations - http://www2.pro-ns.net/~thoryara/audio.htm 
bulletDave"s Cave - UK - Free Electronic, Ambient, Dance Music - http://www.davehall.force9.co.uk/music/music.htm 

horizontal rule


Enhancing the Classroom Emotional Atmosphere with Music - Orchestrating your Classroom Environment

Try some music you've never used before!  

In what ways could you use instrumental music to alter the mood in your classroom?  What types of instrumental music would you use to energize the students?  List specific titles, composers, or CDs.   What particular learning activities might be most effective with a musical component?  Try out some of the free online music tracks listed above, or try a several selections from your own instrumental CD collection.  Describe the purpose and student response.  What instrumental music have you found useful for motivating students to stay on task.  What music helps them mellow out?  What background music have you tried with your students and explain its effectiveness in providing a soothing, unobtrusive environment?  What music have you tried that seems to distract or agitate students?  What music do you find relaxes students?  If you were to prepare students for an exam by playing 10 minutes of music (like the "Mozart Effect" experiment), what piece of music would you choose?

How do you provide musical transitions between tasks and activities?  What music do you like to use to punctuate events and activities in your room?  Name any other effective musical selections you've found useful for creating a joyous, creative, and up-beat classroom.  What songs do you like to sing with your students on a regular basis?  Share music or songs that you have found useful for promoting a caring positive environment?  What songs do you use to foster respect for diversity in your classroom?  What songs do you use with dance, movement, or gross/fine motor activity?  How do you orchestrate your classroom environment?

horizontal rule

Major Components of the Limbic System - Emotional Center

Brain Areas Involved with Emotions


A little almond shaped structure, deep inside the antero-inferior region of the temporal lobe, connects with the hippocampus, the septal nuclei, the prefrontal area and the medial dorsal nucleus of the thalamus. These connections make it possible for the amigdala to play its important role on the mediation and control of major affective activities like friendship, love and affection, on the expression of mood and, mainly, on fear, rage and aggression The amygdala, being the center for identification of danger, is fundamental for self preservation. When triggered, it gives rise to fear and anxiety which lead the animal into a stage of alertness, getting ready to flight or fight.


Is particularly involved with memory phenomena, specially with the formation of long-term memory (the one that, sometimes, lasts forever).


Lesion or stimulation of the medial dorsal and anterior nuclei of the thalamus are associated with changes in emotional reactivity. However, the importance of these nuclei on the regulation of emotional behavior, is not due to the thalamus itself, but to the connections of these nuclei with other limbic system structures. The medial dorsal nucleus makes connections with cortical zones of the pre-frontal area and with the hypothalamus.


The hypothalamus is also believed to play a role in emotion. Specifically, its lateral parts seem to be involved with pleasure and rage, while the median part is like to be involved with aversion, displeasure and a tendency to uncontrollable and loud laughing. However, in general terms, the hypothalamus has more to do with the expression (symptomatic manifestations) of emotions than with the genesis of the affective states. When the physical symptoms of emotion appear, the threat they pose returns, via hypothalamus, to the limbic centers and, thence, to the pre-frontal nuclei, increasing anxiety. This negative feed-back mechanism can be so strong as to generate a situation of panic. 

Brain Stem

The brainstem is the region responsible for the "emotional reactions", (indeed, they are just reflex answers) of inferior vertebrates, like reptiles and amphibians. Even in humans, these primitive structures remain active, not only as alerting mechanisms, vital for survival, but in the maintenance of the sleep-awake cycle.

horizontal rule

  Emotional Intelligence Websites


Emotional Intelligence - Amazon Book Preview


On Emotional Intelligence: A Conversation with Daniel Goleman (Educational Leadership) - http://www.ascd.org/readingroom/edlead/9609/oneil.html 


Edutopia  - http://www.glef.org/index.html Click on Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman Interview Video)


EQ.org - http://www.eq.org/ 


EQ Toolbox - http://www.eqtoolbox.org/ 


Life Sounds Articles on Emotional Intelligence and Music - http://www.musicandlearning.com/resources.cfm 


EQ International - http://eqi.org/


Emotional Intelligence Test Online - http://www.queendom.com/tests/iq/emotional_iq_r2_access.html 


Emotional Intelligence IQ - http://emotionaliq.com/ 


All About EQ from 6 Seconds Emotional Intelligence Network - http://www.6seconds.org/ 


EQ Today Emotional Intelligence Toolbox  - http://www.eqtoday.com/archive/jpcs98activity.html 


Emotional Intelligence - What the Newest Research Says - http://www.thelearningweb.net/emotional-intelligence.html 


Teacher Net UK - http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/teachingandlearning/library/emotionalintelligence/ 


Promotional Intelligence - http://www.salon.com/books/it/1999/06/28/emotional/


Consortium for Research on EQ in Organizations - http://www.eiconsortium.org/ 


Emotional Intelligence in Schools - http://www.connected.org/learn/school.html 

The Brain and Emotions 

bulletThe Brain and Emotion - http://www.news.wisc.edu/packages/emotion/ 
bulletExploring the Musical Brain - http://cogweb.ucla.edu/ep/Music_Leutwyler_01.html 
bulletIntensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion - Montreal Neurological Center - http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/98/20/11818 
bulletNeurobiology and Behavior 1999 Bryn Mawr - http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/ 
bulletSerendip - Bryn Mawr - http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/ 
bulletThe Sound of Music - http://www.new-mind.com/SoundMusic/sound_of_music.htm 
bulletTune your Brain - http://www.tuneyourbrain.com/ 
bulletMusic and Science Information Computer Archive MUSICA- http://www.musica.uci.edu/ 
bulletInternational Foundation for Music Research - IFMR - http://www.music-research.org/ 
bulletThe Limbic Center - Center for Emotions - http://www.epub.org.br/cm/n05/mente/limbic_i.htm 
bulletThe Limbic System - http://thalamus.wustl.edu/course/limbic.html Medial Temporal Lobe
bulletThe Limbic System - http://www.driesen.com/brain_view_-_7.htm 
bulletSomatic Sensory Cortex - http://www.driesen.com/brain_view_-_4.htm 
bulletBrain Illustrations - http://www.driesen.com/images.htm 
bulletThe Limbic System - MindBrain.com - http://mind-brain.com/limbic.php 
bulletMindBrain.com Music http://mind-brain.com/music.php 
bulletMusic and the Brain - Science Friday - http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2003/May/hour2_050903.html 
bulletMusic Training and the Brain - http://www.sfn.org/content/Publications/BrainBriefings/music_training_and_brain.htm 
bulletArticles on Academic Achievement and Music - http://www.menc.org/resources/view/academic-achievement-and-music 
bulletMusic and the Mind - http://www.menc.org/resources/view/academic-achievement-and-music 
bulletThe Cerebral Cortex - Neuroscience Lecture - http://www.clarkson.edu/~rcarlson/PY458Syllabus/Summaries/Cerebral%20Cortex.html 

Mozart Effect Websites - Pro and Con

bulletThe Musical Brain from Kid's Neuroscience Website - http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/music.html 
bulletAnxiety and Memory; Their Effects on Cognition and Musical Performance  - from Kids Neuroscience Site - http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/dl3.html
bulletWhat is the Mozart Effect? Don Campbell - http://www.mozarteffect.com/learn/read.html 
bulletThe Mozart Effect Website - http://www.mozarteffect.com/ 
bulletArticles on the Mozart Effect - http://www.mindinst.org/MIND3/indexresearchers.html 
bulletMore on Mozart Effect - http://parenting-baby.com/Parenting-Baby-Music-Research/Music-Research.html 
bulletGordon Shaw and the Mind Institute - http://www.mindinst.org/MIND2/research.html 
bulletMore from the Mind Institute - http://www.mindinstitute.net/MIND3/mozart/mozart.php 
bulletThe Mozart Effect - Shaw - http://skepdic.com/mozart.html 
bulletMozart Effect - BBC - http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/mozarteffect.shtml 
bulletEdWeek - http://www.edweek.org/ew/vol-17/30music2.h17 
bulletMozart Heals - http://www.mozart-heals.com/ 


Copyright 2003 by Carla Piper, Ed. D.