Open Ear Blog

6 ways your brain processes music


A study at Lund University in Sweden identified six ways the brain processes music. We found them quite interesting…

Brainstem Reflex – Instinctive responses to musical properties such as volume; e.g. when a sudden volume shift makes you jump.

Emotional Contagion – When we ‘feel’ the emotion in music; e.g. The ‘blue’ notes in a worksong are felt as particularly sad or as having deeper meaning.

Evaluative Conditioning – When we come to associate a place with certain sounds or songs thanks to repeat listening; e.g. when an Ella Fitzgerald song reminds you of that café where you had your first job.

Visual Imagery – When a song inspires us to think of a certain place; e.g. a calypso beat makes you think of the beach.

Episodic Memory – When a song provokes a strong memory; e.g. a romantic song reminds you of a first date.

Music Expectancy – The way we recognise musical structure and how we feel when it is disrupted; e.g. when the classic 4/4 backbeat of a House track briefly drops out to build anticipation before the ‘peak’.

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