Dr. Friedman’s Health Blog

How to use MUSIC to PROGRAM your BRAIN

By: Vincent James

Guest Blog Post


It’s funny how we all pretty much accept that the food we eat affects our health and wellness.  Eat a lot of red fatty meats and high-calorie sugar treats, and we’ll find ourselves on a sure-fire path to weight gain, diabetes, and heart-related issues.   We don’t always like hearing this, but we do agree that this is just the way it is.   What we may not realize,  and something that is equally as important is what we feed ourselves through two protrusions sticking out from the sides of our head.  Yes, I’m talking about our ears.   This is true whether it’s the words we hear from our friends, family, and co-workers, or the music we listen to on the radio, TV, and computer.    The music we listen to, with its melody and rhythms, can have particularly strong effects on what is arguably our body’s most important organ, our brain.

People have been fascinated with the magical powers of music for thousands of years, but science has only recently begun to start unraveling this mystery.   What they’ve discovered is that playing music is one of the few activities we humans do that utilizes both sides of our brain.   In one study by neurologist and neuroscientist Gottfried Schlaug (now a researcher at Harvard), there was scientific evidence of a 25 percent growth in the corpus callosum relative to the overall size of the brain over a three-year period versus a control group of students not studying music.  The corpus callosum is the broadband of nerve fibers that connects the left and right hemispheres of our brains. These additional neural connections we make between the left/logical side and the right/creative side of our brains can have a profound impact on many areas of our life.  This readily explains why musical children often do statistically better on other subjects like math, science and English than their non-musical peers. 

In another study, researchers Mona Lisa Chanda & Daniel J. Levitin from McGill University discovered that listening to music can help regulate mood and levels of excitement in everyday life, as well as helping to promote physical and mental well-being.   A study featured in Nature Neuroscience shows that levels of a neurotransmitter chemical called dopamine increases whenever we listen to our favorite music.  These dopamine levels gradually build leading up to our favorite part of a song.  When that sweet spot hits, we are often hit with the inescapable feeling of goosebumps.  This “feel good” chemical can also be traced to our happiness whenever we eat our favorite dessert, have sex or suddenly come into some extra money.   Think about it…the music you listen to can actually make you HIGH!  

Besides having the ability to make us feel good, music can also be utilized to help program our minds.  Did you ever wonder why listening to new age and classical music often has a calming effect on your mood?   Or maybe you start to feel your blood pressure begin to rise more than just a little when you hear the latest rock or hip-hop song your kids are getting into.  Depending on our personal preferences, certain styles of music will have an immediate effect on our bodies and mindset.   Once we begin to recognize which artists and songs make us feel calm, happy or energized, we can stock our musical playlist to help create the desired effect whenever we want.

I’d like to suggest a few customized musical playlists that will help you accomplish more and be happier.   The first list is what I like to call a “PUMP IT UP” list to help get you going when your legs are aching on that last treadmill mile, or maybe you’ve got an important work deadline later that day.   You’ll also find this playlist very useful when prepping for a job or media interview, or perhaps an important presentation.  Here are a dozen “PUMP IT UP” songs that will help get your mind and body going:

PUMP IT UP Playlist

“Anyway You Want It” – Journey

“Eye of the Tiger” – Survivor

“I’m So Excited” – Pointer Sisters

“I Feel Good” – James Brown

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrell

“Jump” – Van Halen

“Livin’ on a Prayer” – Bon Jovi

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Justin Timberlake

“Uptown Funk” – Bruno Mars

“Shut Up and Dance” – Walk the Moon

“Fight Song” – Rachel Platten

“Don’t Stop Believing” – Journey


Next, we all need a “CHILL” playlist to help us wind down from the day, the traffic, the work stress and anything else that is kicking our butts.  You’ll find this playlist very useful on a crowded commute or when you need to calm down after a particularly difficult day.   Deciding which songs to add to your “CHILL” playlist is definitely more of a personal preference, though we often recommend searching for New Age and Classical music selections.   Instrumental music allows our minds to relax and wander more freely because we’re not thinking about the meaning of the lyrics.  Instead, we paint our own picture in our minds to represent what we’re listening to, and that allows us to get lost in the calm soothing feeling that begins to surround us.   Just be careful to not allow yourself to “chill” too much while driving, at least not until you hit the road with your first self-driving car J   

A final playlist you might consider is something I refer to as “CRY IT OUT”, which would be made up of your favorite sad songs. Yes, that’s right, I said sad songs (my favorite would be “Alone Again Naturally” by Gilbert O’Sullivan from way way back).  There are times in our lives when we do need to “wallow” in our sad feelings for a short bit, in the same way that we need to cry when something overwhelmingly sad happens.  If we don’t find a healthy way to release those feelings and let them go, they often end up bottled inside causing us numerous health issues later on.  Word of Caution: Don’t put the “CRY IT OUT” playlist on repeat. It’s meant for small doses and only as needed.  Once you’ve had your needed cry, it’s always a good idea to follow up with the “PUMP IT UP" playlist.

I often refer to music as a “magical time machine” that can bring us back to special moments in our lives.  Regardless of what style of music we are drawn to, I think we can all agree that music has very special powers, even if we can’t fully understand why.  Be sure to wield this awesome power of music carefully, and please drop us a comment below to let us know what songs and artists you use to help PUMP IT UP, CHILL or to CRY IT OUT.


Vincent James

Co-Founder Keep Music Alive (www.KeepMusicAlive.org)

Co-Author “88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life”


“People always ask me why we didn’t do a “Chicken Soup for the Musician’s Soul” and now you’ve done one."
-Jack Canfield, Author of Chicken Soup for the Soul and Success Principles.


About the Author

Dr. David Friedman is the author of the award-winning, #1 national best-selling book Food Sanity, How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. He's a  Doctor of Naturopathy, Chiropractic Neurologist, Clinical Nutritionist, Board Certified Alternative Medical Practitioner, and Board Certified in Integrative Medicine.  Dr. Friedman is a syndicated television health expert and host of To Your Good Health Radio, which has changed the face of talk radio by incorporating entertainment, shock value, and solutions to everyday health and wellness issues.

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