How is music processed? Tentative answers from cognitive neuroscience

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Introduction: Music therapists have turned to neuroscience for an explanation of the therapeutic effect of music. Following this interest, the present author conducted a narrative review of this emerging topic. Method: The author searched PubMed, PsycInfo, Web of Science, Google Scholar and a university database with “music” and “neuroscience” as search terms, for publications between 2000 and 2015, including only those relevant to music processing. A full-text review was performed, and thematic summaries were compiled. Results: Findings indicate that music is a complex, generative, and recursive phenomenon that uses similar neural networks as other sounds. It generates emotional responses processed sequentially and simultaneously by cortical and subcortical areas (vmPFC, insula, amygdala, thalamus, hippocampus and parahippocampus, hypothalamus, NAc, caudate nucleus, and OFC). Music generates activity in motor areas (premotor, primary motor, basal ganglia, and cerebellum) and also engages higher-order processing. Discussion: Music perception is probably the result of the Gestalt at all levels. Extraneous variables, such as expertise, attitude, mood, environment, and interpersonal relationships can also modify music processing. Further, this literature only pertains to receptive experiences, and not the active involvement common in music therapy. Recommendations for music interventions should consider the complexity of music processing and the limitations of our current technology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-332
Number of pages18
JournalNordic Journal of Music Therapy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 8 2019


  • Music
  • cognitive neuroscience
  • music processing
  • music therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Phychiatric Mental Health
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Complementary and alternative medicine


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