Streaming Live Online

How Does Music Change Your Brain?

How Music Heals—and How It Can Help Us Find Solace in the Time of Coronavirus | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Illustration by Be Boggs.

Moderated by Elise Hu, International Correspondent, NPR


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A quarter century ago, neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote of a young patient whose brain tumor appeared to have cost him his memory—until the music of his favorite group, the Grateful Dead, brought him back to reality. Today, scholars in the field of neuromusicology suggest that music can be a tool to improve our brains—helping children develop faster, improving the performance of athletes and computer programmers, and even reducing the number of mistakes made by physicians. What does listening to or making music do to the different parts of our brains and the chemicals that help us think? And what potential does music have as a treatment for conditions from anxiety to Alzheimer’s? Songwriter and actress Mary Steenburgen, research psychologist Assal Habibi, and Mark Jude Tramo, neuroscientist and director of the Institute for Music & Brain Science, visit Zócalo to explore how music transforms our brains.

The Takeaway