Song Research

of three

Neurological Impact of Songs

Default mode network (DMN), a circuit in the brain responsible for empathy, thought, and self-awareness gets more connected when listeners listen to their favorite music and is less connected when they listen to ordinary music. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) is activated while listening to music. This interactive neuroendocrine unit is responsible for the regulation of hormone cortisol, control of the immune system, stress, mood, and attention


  • Default mode network (DMN), a circuit in the brain responsible for empathy, thought, and self-awareness gets more connected when listeners listen to their favorite music and is less connected when they listen to ordinary music.
  • Listening to favorite music increases the connection between auditory brain areas and areas of the brain responsible for social emotion and memory.
  • Slow waves in songs are associated with a relaxed brain state and fast wave in songs is associated with arousal state.
  • The brain's left hemisphere activation is observed with pleasant music and right hemisphere activation with unpleasant music.

Parts of the Brain — Positive and Negative Reaction to Songs

  • The caudal anterior cingulate cortex is an area in the brain responsible for music memory. It's motor area has shown less cortical atrophy and minimal disruption glucose metabolism in the case of Alzheimer's disease. Hence, music enhances memory recollection even in Alzheimer's patients, as it acts as a mnemonic aid.
  • Bilateral fronto-temporal activation is observed while listening to songs. Left temporal activation is noticed while listening to positive emotional songs and right temporal activation is observed while listening to negative emotional songs.
  • Dopamine, a neurotransmitter is released while listening to favorite songs which is responsible for emotional and cognitive functioning.
  • Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) activation is observed while listening to music which is responsible for the regulation of hormone cortisol, control of the immune system, stress, mood, and attention.
  • The release of opioids in the brain is observed while listening to songs. Opioids are natural painkillers, therefore, listening to music reduces pain.
  • Oxytocin, the love hormone is released by the brain while listening to songs which ultimately results in social bonding.
  • The activity of various emotion-related regions of the brain such as anterior ventral tegmental area (VTA), locus coeruleus, temporal pole (TP), amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and anterior cerebellum increases while listening to music.
  • Levels of B-endorphin and Acth which are responsible for inducing stress decreases while listening to songs.
  • Music triggers the cerebellum and motor cortex which results in physical movements such as dancing and tapping floor.
  • The decline in neuron degeneration is observed with music practice and listening to music. This aids in the treatment of various dementias with general behavioral and cognitive symptoms.


  • The brain has a complex relationship with music in general.
  • For example, when a song is first heard, it activates the auditory cortex and we then convert the rhythms, melodies, and harmonies into an understandable whole. From that point on, how a person reacts depends solely on how they interact with it.
  • If a person decides to sing along to a song in their head, they will activate their premotor cortex, which is the area of the brain that helps plan and coordinate movements. If that same person also decides to dance to the song, their neurons will synchronize with the beat of the music.
  • Further, when individuals start to pay close attention to the lyrics and instrumentation, they will activate their parietal cortex, which helps shift and maintain attention to different stimuli.
  • If a person listens to a song that makes them recall personal memories, the prefrontal cortex which maintains information relevant to personal life and relationships will be activated.
  • Images of the brain show that a person's favorite song will activate the brain’s pleasure connections, which in turn, releases a rush of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other neurochemicals that make a person feel good. In fact, the more a person likes a song, the more they get treated by "neurochemical bliss", exposing the brain with some of the same neurotransmitters that cocaine chases after.
  •  Scientists in Germany and Norway analyzed 80,000 chords in 745 songs listed in the US Billboard 'Hot 100' chart between 1958 and 1991. They removed elements including lyrics and melody from the songs. Further, they looked at the brain activity of 79 study participants listening to them, using a technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). "They found that brain activity increased in three regions: the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the auditory cortex when the test subjects were listening to music." These regions play a role in processing emotions, learning and memory, and processing sound, respectively.
of three

Songs that are Popular and Effective

Atypical songs, lyrics, melody, rhythm, length of the song, non-lyrical hooks, danceability, tempo, valence, and energy define the popular and effective songs. Below are our explicit findings.

Atypical Songs

  • According to a study published in the journal of Psychological Science, focusing on popular music using Billboard’s digital download rankings, the more atypical songs (ones that featured less genre-typical content) were ranked more highly.
  • An analysis conducted on a collection of 1,879 unique songs from 2014 to 2016 blockbusters for seven genres of music; pop, rock, country, rap, dance, rhythm and blues, and Christian music; it could be found that the more the lyrics of a song are different from its genre, the more popular it becomes.



  • Melodies that are fresh and original makes the song rise above the competition.
  • Songs like “From a Distance” and "I Miss You" from the Time Jumpers album, Grammy-winning Best American Album, have powerful and unexpected chord changes, and melody moments that evoke emotions taking the songs to the next level.


Nonsense Syllables/Non-Lyric Vocal Hooks

  • It could be observed that adding sounds that the audience can sing along such as ‘na-na-na,’ an ‘oh, oh, oh,’ ‘hey, hey, hey,’ or some other similar sounds increases the song’s chances of being recorded more times.
  • For example, Bruno Mars' song “Locked Out of Heaven” featured a hook sung on the syllables “oh, yeah, yeah, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award.
  • Rihanna’s “Umbrella” is built on an infectious beat and very few chords, with a very simple main hook, which hits the first time someone gets to what is called the “pay off”, the “ella ella ella eh eh eh” bit, an infuriatingly catchy modern pop moment.

Length of the Song

  • The average length of the top 15 songs of Billboard Hot 100 (2019) was identified as 3:20 minutes.
  • After analyzing every song that cracked Billboard Top 5 in 2018, it could be found that songs lasting between 3:21-3:40 remained on top.


  • The danceability score is a measure of how suitable a song is to dance to. Among songs analyzed by Columbia University to understand what makes a hit song, it could be found that the score of danceability remained high for all songs post-2016, such as Love Yourself, Pillow Talk, Sorry and Walk, among others.


  • Among all the songs that cracked the Billboard Top 5 in 2018, had an even tempo spread with 77-78 BPM eeked out a win.


  • The valence represents the “positiveness” of the track. The score of valence remained high for all songs post-2016, such as Love Yourself, Pillow Talk, Sorry and Walk, among others, according to Columbia University analysis.


  • Energy is a measure of a track’s “intensity.” Also, the score remained high for all songs post-2016, according to the analysis conducted by Columbia University.

Research Strategy:

To provide information relating to the request, data and any statistics that defines a popular and effective song, we leveraged various analysis of the top Billboard's songs that have been done by experts such as Jason Blume’s (whose songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies), Dean Olivet (recipient of French Horn Trophy, Jug Band Trophy), Marty Dodson (American singer-songwriter/producer), industry trends issued by analysts Hit Songs Deconstructed, Columbia University, and many more. Subsequently, we curated the elements that mostly define the popular and effective songs today or the ones that have remained relevant in the past as well as the present.

of three

Musical Nostalgia

The music teens listen to will likely be the same music they listen to as adults due to the developing teen brain that deeply embeds music into highly-cherished memories. Feelings that are associated with nostalgia in adults include joy, appreciation, longing, and happiness. Additional details are below.

Music's Impact on Youth

  • The songs people listen to as teens set their musical tastes as adults. The most formative part of their teens for men in terms of musical taste is between the ages 13 and 16, whereas for women, that critical period is between the ages of 11 and 14.
  • For men, the average age when their favorite song was released is 14, but for women, that average age is 13.
  • Childhood musical influences are stronger for women than for men, as the key years for forming musical preferences coincide with the end of puberty.
  • As children grow, their musical tastes help form their individual identities and these identities are often purposely distinct from their parents; however, the music they grow up on is also strongly tied to their memories of home.
  • Musician and musicologist Nolan Gasser stated, "Music becomes that stake in the ground— ‘this is who I am,’ but at the same time, the music people listened to at an early age becomes their native home comfort music. When they grow up, that music will be part of who they are, tied in with memories and growing up. All of these powers are why music is so important to us."
  • After the teenage years, people tend to stop listening to current popular music and continue to listen to the music of their teens.

Feelings that Songs Invoke in Adults

Psychological Effects of Music on Humans

  • Music stimulates the brain's visual cortex, which is responsible for causing humans to associate a song with a memory or image.
  • Music is especially influential during the teen years because the brain is developing during these years, which means the music that is heard during that period is formative in nature.
  • The music people listen to as adolescents shapes their neural pathways, stimulates the prefrontal cortex, and "triggers the frontostriatal cortex which releases dopamine and other pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters."
  • Due to the developing brain during teenage years, songs are more deeply encoded in memories because of the strong emotional connections the brain makes with them. Additionally, "the surplus of pubertal hormones adolescents experience heighten their emotions and encode strong emotional memory linked to music."
  • Not all memories are created equal and the ones from teen years and the early 20s are "the ones we return to and cherish the most. They call this period the 'reminiscence bump', when human beings retain more memories than they will during any other life phases."
  • Nearly 70% of people surveyed by Spotify said that "feelings of nostalgia can help to change or improve their mood" and almost 75% said that "nostalgia connects people, thanks to shared experiences and memories."

From Part 01
  • "The listeners' preferences, not the type of music they were listening to, had the greatest impact on brain connectivity -- especially on a brain circuit known to be involved in internally focused thought, empathy and self-awareness. "
  • "This circuit, called the default mode network, was poorly connected when the participants were listening to the music they disliked, better connected when listening to the music they liked and the most connected when listening to their favorites."
  • "The researchers also found that listening to favorite songs altered the connectivity between auditory brain areas and a region responsible for memory and social emotion consolidation."
  • "Treatment with music has shown effectiveness in the treatment of general behavioural and cognitive symptoms of patients with various types of dementia."
  • "Studies with musical intervention have demonstrated the efficacy of treatment for the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, such as agitation, irritability, depression, and apathy."
  • "Other studies have investigated the role of music in cognition. In addition, music practice compensates for age-related declines in processing speed, memory, and cognition"
  • " In addition, regions related to musical memory such as the caudal anterior cingulate cortex and the supplemental motor area showed a minimal level of cortical atrophy and disruption of glucose metabolism compared to the rest of the brain."
  • " Therefore, β-amyloid deposition in these regions is at an early stage in the expected course of the development of biomarkers for AD and is relatively well preserved. These results may explain the surprising preservation of musical memory in AD."
  • "Recognizing that musical coding may serve as a mnemonic aid in AD"
  • "Altenmuller et al. found that, when comparing the EEG activity of emotional processing of complex auditory stimuli using emotional excerpts and environmental sounds, there is a general bilateral fronto-temporal activation, a left temporal activation that is increased by positive emotional music and a right frontotemporal activation improved by negative emotional ones "
  • " In fact, music-related studies using EEG have provided evidence indicating that the right frontal brain region preferably contributes to arousal and negatively valenced emotions, whereas the left one to positively valenced emotions "
  • "This article contributed to reinforce the relation that exists in the activation of the alpha band in the left hemisphere when hearing songs that trigger positive emotions and the right one in the negative emotions. "
  • "These findings are consistent with previous studies of music-listening [44]. Plus, the predominance of left hemisphere activation with pleasant musical feelings and right activation with unpleasant ones is consistent with findings that relate right frontal activation with negative affect and left frontal activation with positive affect"
  • " listening to the music you love will make your brain release more dopamine, a crucial neurotransmitter for humans’ emotional and cognitive functioning."
  • "Opioids are the body’s natural painkillers and are released during music listening (Chanda and Levitin, 2013; Stefano et al., 2004). On the one hand, opioids might be central for the peace and relaxation we can experience from certain music, but on the other hand, opioids also seem to be responsible for the strong emotions or pleasure we experience from listening to music."
  • "Finally, music affects the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal). The HPA axis is a major part of the neurochemical system that regulates a number of body functions, such as the immune system, arousal and stress, attention, mood and emotion."
  • "Oxytocin is a neurohormone, and has colloquially been dubbed the ‘cuddle hormone’ or ‘love drug’, because of its role in reproduction and social bonding. It has been suggested that the capacity to engage in temporally matched interactions, such as music, is associated with the release of oxytocin"
  • "Temporal pole was associated with the integration of music and the imagined scenes."
  • "During scene imagery, activation in the hypothalamic-brainstem structures was enhanced by music."
  • "Subregions of the ventral tegmental area were sensitive to stimuli with different emotional valences."
  • "When comparing the withMUSIC to withoutMUSIC conditions, activity in a number of emotion-related regions was observed, including the temporal pole (TP), amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, anterior ventral tegmental area (VTA), locus coeruleus, and anterior cerebellum."
  • "The thrills of music could thus be linked to endogenous opioids.38However,other studies state that music decreases stress-induced hor-mones, such as b-endorphin and ACTH.3"
  • "subject was most relaxed during the positive message in the minor key. During positive lyrics in major key, Theta/Beta ratio decreased at C3 (p=0.032), at T3 (p=0.003), and at T4 (p=0.022)."
  • " During negative message lyrics in a major key, Theta/Beta decreased at T3 (p=0.008), at Pz (p=0.047), at P3 (p=0.030), and at C3 (p=0.014). During negative lyrics in minor key, Theta/Beta decreased at T3 (p=0.048), at Pz (p=0.039), at Cz (p=0.050), at P3 (p=0.033), and at C3 (p=0.028) with several other sites approaching significance."
  • "Slow wave activity is typically associated with a relaxed brain state while fast wave activity is indicative of arousal [4]. "