Music and the Subconscious Mind

Years ago I considered earning my graduate degrees in music therapy. As a professional musician I have always been acutely aware of the impact of music on my mood, my thought patterns, my subconscious mind. Although my academic training took a different path, I’ve studied various approaches to using music and sound as therapy, and find the impact to be quite beneficial in my own life and that of my clients.

Author, musician, and neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin has written several books focused on musical perception and cognition. Two of these which might be of interest are: This Is Your Brain on Music, and The World in Six Songs.

Where I tend to focus on the sounds and styles of music and their impacts on emotions, Mr. Levitin, in his second book focuses on the evolutionary hardwiring of the brain and the way songs with lyrics have “been there to guide the development of human nature.” Some evolutionary scientists have dismissed music as an ultimately disposable “extra”, however Levitin stresses that natural selection has favored “musical brains” from the beginning. He goes on to say that music has been the energetic that has helped humans to live together, and that songs can be divided among six different categories that speak to human life and consciousness:

  1. Friendship
  2. Joy
  3. Comfort
  4. Knowledge
  5. Religion
  6. Love

Beyond the interesting anecdotes and examples for each of the categories, Levitin goes on to cite recent scientific studies of the brain. He discusses the relationship between playing and listening to music, and the release of hormones including dopamine, oxytocin, and seratonin. He supports what I’ve always suspected when he says “song activates more regions of the brain than anything else that we know”.  This is why it is so important for us to continue using music in our lives as we grow older, so that the brain remains active and agile. I’ll remember this the next time I feel bored playing folk tunes around the campfire!

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  • Jasmine
    October 15, 2015

    This was a nice read, very intriguing. I’ve always suspected that our brains were affected by music in a great way, but to have it supported is astounding. Sometimes

  • David
    June 18, 2013

    Iam a student of psychology specializing in the study of the subconscious mind and have found your article very resourceful in my scholarly endeavor.Keep it up.

  • Ruby
    April 28, 2011

    I am doing some research and found your article. My mentor is a teacher who teaches transformation and healing through music. She always say similar things. Great job! Keep it up!

  • Malcolm R. Campbell
    October 16, 2010

    Very interesting post. When I write a novel, I usually find a piece of music that fits the mood of the work, and then listen to it while I write. Soon, just hearing the music gets me into a writing mood and also brings to mind numerous images and ideas for the scenes I’m working on. Maybe I got my start with this when I had so much fun as a Boy Scout singing camp fire songs and then enjoying a good night’s sleep out in the woods.


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