Music and brain chemistry: Release those Neurotransmitters!

By | December 21, 2012

There’s been a subterranean theme to some of my ramblings on here relating to music; basically what is it about music that can stir the soul, and why does some music achieve this and other music achieve the complete opposite?  It seems it is necessary to delve into brain chemistry if you really want to get some insight, and there’s a good summary on Brain Pickings. It appears that music has the ability to create a state of arousal by inducing the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which also regulates the neurochemistry of love, and offsetting a reward circuit similar to the one drugs exploit.  You can also achieve the same state of arousal by running marathons.  Music, drugs, and marathons: your choice!

But there must be a finer level of tuning in the brain that controls exactly what type of music pushes the right neurochemical buttons.  Are we wired to respond to certain genres?  Does it come about through nurture?  Does it evolve through personal experience or exposure to specific types of music?  We all experience the neurotransmitter release by the association of a specific piece of music with a specific event.  That was the song that was playing when I first ……. (whatever) and whenever I hear it, I am reminded of ……. (whatever).  But there’s a deeper level where some aspect of the music itself, melody, harmony or rhythm just sets off those neurotransmitters all by itself.  How does that happen?  I’ve no idea if anybody does know, but I bet we’re all glad that it does.

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