Music–The Brain Stimulant

Old school 4
Me in the middle at the old country school.

by Neva Bodin

In our little country school, we often started our mornings with 15 minutes of music. Since I could “play by ear,” I occasionally was asked/allowed to play a song on the old pump organ. I was scarcely strong enough to push those feet pedals to keep air flowing through the bellows or whatever made the keys play.

How smart those early teachers were—without studies to prove they knew what they were doing. I believe that singing helped open our minds to the learning we would do for the day. Music touches the brain like no other stimulant.

According to neurologist, Dr. Oliver Sacks, “Music imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience. Music evokes emotion and emotion can bring with it memory.” He adds, “Music brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.” Music, the “Quickening Art” – Kant 8/11/2016

Now music is being recognized as bringing people who suffer dementia, depression and/or who seem to slip into a non-attentive, and perhaps, non-caring state, into an aware, memory-filled and “alive” state.

pump organ
A pump organ similar to the one at our school.

A program started by Dan Cohen, a social worker, called “Music and Memory” (  helps non-profit organizations start a movement of loaning IPODs with music specific to the intended listener programmed onto them. They will then be used in long term care facilities, hospices or hospitals and other facilities that have people who may benefit, such as those with dementia, depression or mental illness. Watch:     IPOD

The hospice where I worked provides a respite service that is partnering with a church in my town to make this happen. IPODS with personalized music will be loaned to anyone who is identified as someone who might benefit from listening to their favorite music to increase their quality of life. This may include people in pain, those who receive dialysis, or those who need to “come alive inside” again. I attended a workshop about 30 years ago citing studies showing music piped directly into a patient’s ears could even reduce pain by as much as 50%.

When I taught my daughters how to spell their names, I made the spelling into a tune. They learned rapidly.

Music is theorized to stimulate multiple parts of the brain, accessing deep neurons, and stimulating the hippocampus, the center for long-term memories and spatial navigation. I know of stroke victims who can sing what they want to say, but not speak it. (The name, “hippocampus,” means sea horse and was so-named because of its shape.)hippocampus.png

This knowledge can not only help the people we love, or maybe ourselves, but surely can be used for ideas in writing our novels and shaping the lives of our characters. Music—the universal language.


20 thoughts on “Music–The Brain Stimulant

  1. Neva, this music lover agrees 100%. When at work, if working on project where my mental faculties are in play, Mozart to the rescue. Working out or cleaning, Hard Rock works well.

    I am so excited at the progress they are making in the area of music therapy. Thank you so much for sharing this. Doris


    1. You are so welcome. I am excited about this as is everyone involved with getting it started here. Hopefully, it will catch on like the wild fires we are having in the state and not get dropped into a drawer in a storage room as I saw the pain control program we started at a different facility. I agree, peppy music helps me clean house too!


  2. I’ve always found that music is my time machine. Hear a particular tune and suddenly I’m 12 years old and back in elementary school in Rialto, California, or a gawky teenager at Fort Frye High School in Beverly, Ohio. Those old tunes have a way of unlocking memories and making them fresh again.


  3. You are welcome. I saw a difference to in the Alzheimer’s unit when a savvy activities director used music to create more order and calm in the group. Thanks for the affirmation.


  4. This is why the arts NEED to be treated as core curriculum in school. It’s so easy to say that we don’t need the arts because it’s not part of our high-stakes testing, but the reality is that without it, our testing would be even worse. And so would we.


  5. I also started my primary school day with singing. The first half hour of teaching was a standard thing across Glasgow in the 1950s and 1960s. It was the time for a quick registration but also for hymn singing. There was no piano in a typical classroom, just the teacher leading the singing and teaching the words. It was totally repetitive and ‘wrote learned’ but it’s true that even after all these years I remember a lot of the words and tunes of the many Victorian hymns that were still typical of the era. I hadn’t thought of the time as being a stimulus to the rest of the learning for the day but it probably was. It’s a lovely idea you’ve mentioned for stimulating those with dementia type issues.


  6. My husband also believes in the power of music — I think that’s a big reason why he enjoys singing in the barbershop chorus and church choir. He also creates DVDs weaving beautiful natural scenes, including wildlife, with classical and other instrumental music and makes these available for Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers. I listen to instrumental music as I write — seems to help my own muse flow. Thank you for a wonderful post, Neva!


    1. You are welcome. I too have certain easy listening CD’s I play in my office. It does help me focus and tune the rest of the world out as well as calm my soul. Guess I should make my dementia CDs now just in case….


  7. Loved this post, Neva. I learned things I didn’t know about music. Some of the facts you presented make such perfect sense. Music can motivate us, make us happy, and relax us. I really love music and my music is eclectic, so I get a little bit of everything. Thank you for this post!


    1. Thanks for the nice comments. Music is magic sometimes I think. A way to help us express and feel emotions. Imagine if all the people who don’t read poetry or books didn’t have music for an outlet! I think almost everyone likes some kind of music. Would love to know what you have in your “eclectic” collection. You are such a neat person.


  8. Yes, music is wonderful Neva. It definitely helps get through the day and even if I’m not playing music, I often hear it in my head. That is wonderful you could play an organ by ear. There have been a few musicians, Woody Guthrie comes to mind, who played by ear.


    1. I hear it in my head too when it’s not playing at times. And if can be soothing. So many people are connected to some kind of music, it can be inspirational to what they are doing. Thanks for the comment. I am blessed to be able to play by ear and it is a relaxation exercise for me to do so.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love this post. Music is so important, and I believe it really shapes peoples’ lives in that what you experience or feel as you hear a song will come back to you again and again. I think it’s incredible you can play by ear. I play piano but I was never able to do that!


    1. Playing by ear is a blessing and a gift, I did not earn it, but I also took lessons and can play from written music. I think you gave the secret to the music and memory program in saying the experience or feeling as you hear a song will come back to you again and again. Thanks for the comments!


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