How Different Music Genres Affect the Brain

While music is an almost universally enjoyed phenomenon, being found in varying degrees of importance across many different cultures, there is no universally agreed upon genre. The reason for this is pretty straightforward – not all individuals and cultures are the same, and what may be appealing to one person can be repulsive to another.

Science is beginning to find that music, no matter the style, affects the brain in the same way, at least in certain key areas. However, different genres can affect it differently in their own way. Here we’ll be outlining some of the most popular styles of music and how they affect the brain.

Pop, Rock, HIp-hop, Techno, Reggae, and Country

You might be wondering why we put all of these genres in the same category, even though they’re clearly different. The reason for this is, although these genres all elicit a different mood, they affect the brain in almost universally similar ways. The reason for this is their consistent, 4/4 rhythm.

This rhythm affects the brain in a predictable way because it has a predictable beat. You can think of it like this: with 4/4 music, you are experiencing a sense of “having heard”, “hearing”, and “about to hear” all at once. The predictable structure of this kind of music is also responsible for getting the blood pumping and increasing the heart rate (most likely due to the fact that the 4/4 beat resembles the human heartbeat, and the body responds accordingly).

Metal

While this would probably best be included in the “rock” category above, as it utilizes the consistent 4/4 rhythm as well, it has its own category due to its heavy distortion, which has a tendency to cause the brain to “boom” with messages in a way the above genres don’t. This phenomenon may be the reason for some people claiming heavy metal relaxes them.

Jazz

Jazz music started off fairly structured, albeit still inherently more creative than other styles. Over time, it began to move into less structured territory. The interesting thing about how jazz affects the brain is that the individual’s interpretation of the music is equally as valid as the composer’s. This is especially true in free jazz, where the listener’s brain interprets melodies and patterns in their own way, in an attempt to find meaning in what some may think of as a mere cacophony of sounds.

Jazz also often uses the call-and-response technique, which activates the part of the brain responsible for language and communication.

Classical

How classical music affects the brain is not so easy to describe, as there are so many different styles ranging from heavily distorted styles with a fast tempo, to relaxing and contemplative styles. Generally speaking, classical music has a way of playing with both higher, major key melodies with lower, minor key melodies at the same time, only to merge and create altogether new melodies and rhythms that transcend both. This form of composition thus activates more areas of the brain than most other music styles.