Music and the Brain

Course No. 1181
Professor Aniruddh D. Patel, Ph.D.
Tufts University
Share This Course
4.3 out of 5
73 Reviews
84% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 1181
Streaming Included Free

Course Overview

“Patel is a pioneer in investigating music and the brain, and these clear and engaging lectures make the subject exciting and accessible.”
-Oliver Sacks

Music is an integral part of humanity. Every culture has music, from the largest society to the smallest tribe. Its marvelous range of melodies, themes, and rhythms taps into something universal. Babies are soothed by it. Young adults dance for hours to it. Older adults can relive their youth with the vivid memories it evokes. Music is part of our most important rituals, including those marking birth, weddings, and death. And it has been the medium of some of our greatest works of art.

Yet even though music is intimately woven into the fabric of our lives, it remains deeply puzzling, provoking questions such as:

  • How and why did musical behavior originate?
  • What gives mere tones such a powerful effect on our emotions?
  • Why does music with a beat give us the urge to move and dance?
  • Are we born with our sense of music, or do we acquire it by experience?

In the last 20 years, researchers have come closer to solving these riddles thanks to cognitive neuroscience, which integrates the study of human mental processes with the study of the brain. This exciting field has not only helped us address age-old questions about music; it also allows us to ask entirely new ones, like:

  • Do the brains of musicians differ from non-musicians?
  • Can musical training promote cognitive development in children?
  • Does making or listening to music help patients with brain damage?
  • Is there a deep connection between music and language?

In Music and the Brain, neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology Aniruddh Patel of Tufts University probes one of the mind’s most profound mysteries. Covering the latest research findings—from the origins of music’s emotional powers to the deficits involved in amusia, or the inability to hear music—these 18 enthralling half-hour lectures will make you think about music and your brain in a new way.

“Ani’s series of lectures hit all the right notes. A gifted and engaging guide, he delivers an extraordinarily comprehensive and accessible dive into the most fascinating topics in the neuroscience of music. Watch all of these and you’ll know what one of the greatest minds in the field has to say about the exciting world of music and the brain." -Daniel J. Levitin, Author of This Is Your Brain On Music and Professor of neuroscience and music, McGill University

Designed for music lovers and brain enthusiasts at all levels, Music and the Brain assumes no prior background in the subject. The course is truly interdisciplinary, covering fundamental ideas of music theory, neuroanatomy, and cognitive science, while spotlighting the diverse range of experiments, discoveries, and debates in this fast-changing field.

A Whole Brain Phenomenon

You will learn that music is not just about the auditory system; it’s about the links between sound processing and all the other things that brains do, such as moving, planning, remembering, imagining, and feeling. This means that music shows up in some surprising contexts. For instance, learning to play a musical instrument improves the brain’s processing of speech and helps children who are learning to read. Another example: patients with Parkinson’s disease can enhance their motor skills by participating in musical activities.

Indeed, music happens in so many different parts of the brain that it defies the left brain/right brain distinction. Music cognition is a whole brain phenomenon, as you will discover in numerous brain scans that document where the various aspects of music are centered.

To help you experience these concepts for yourself, Music and the Brain is also filled with dozens of original musical examples composed especially for the course. Having never heard these passages before, you will have no prior associations as you listen to different pitch sequences and rhythms, experiencing some of the many feelings that music can evoke. Among the musical sensations considered in the course are these:

  • Getting chills: Why do certain passages of music elicit what is essentially a fear response—chills and goosebumps—even though we take great pleasure in such moments? Researchers have proposed several theories to explain the reason for this strange reaction.
  • Melodic mastery: Among animals, humans appear to have a unique ability to recognize melodies as the same when transposed up or down in pitch. Professor Patel suggests an evolutionary connection to the difference in pitch register between male and female human voices.
  • Music and spoken rhythm: Why does the music of the French composer Claude Debussy sound so different from that of his English contemporary Sir Edward Elgar? Compare the rhythmic patterns of their music and respective languages for intriguing clues.
  • Sounds of nature: The mix of tones that makes a piano sound different from a violin or a trumpet is called timbre. One reason we find musical instruments with complex harmonic tones so attractive is that they are reminiscent of the timbre of the human voice.

A Transformative Spark

Professor Patel has been lauded by scientists and musicians alike. In 2008, he garnered the prestigious Deems Taylor Award for outstanding coverage of music, presented by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. His work has also received acclaim from neurologist Oliver Sacks, best-selling author of Musicophilia. An exciting and inspiring thinker, Professor Patel draws fascinating connections that stay with you, such as when he compares the invention of music to the discovery of fire. He argues that neither is genetically predetermined, but once developed, both were so useful that they spread universally. Fire provided the physical benefits of cooking, warmth, and protection, while music’s advantages were almost entirely mental and social—as an emotional stimulant, aid to memory, and energizer for group bonding.

But music is even more remarkable than fire, because it can alter the structure of our brains. Learning to play a musical instrument improves speech perception, which in turn makes learning to read easier and aids in gauging emotions in others. Music also enhances the capacity to understand hierarchical structures, handle multiple tasks, and remember long sequences of information. And for patients with stroke, Alzheimer’s, and other brain disorders, it is a potential path to enhancing neural and motor functions. How does it do all of this and more? Music and the Brain is your unrivaled explanation of this marvelous gift.

Hide Full Description
18 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Music: Culture, Biology, or Both?
    Explore the distinction between music and musicality. While musical styles change, musicality is the stable array of mental processes that underlie our ability to appreciate and produce music. Begin by looking at our capacity for relative pitch perception, asking why we excel over all other animals at this skill. x
  • 2
    Seeking an Evolutionary Theory of Music
    Darwin believed that musical behavior arose because it gave our early ancestors a biological advantage. But what advantage? Investigate Darwin's theory and other adaptationist explanations for the evolution of music. Then look at two alternatives: invention theories and gene-culture co-evolution theories. x
  • 3
    Testing Theories of Music's Origins
    Follow two lines of research that have put ideas about music's origins to the test. Start with studies of music perception in monkeys. Then turn to an ingenious experiment with young children, designed to evaluate the theory that musical behavior enhances social bonds between group members. x
  • 4
    Music, Language, and Emotional Expression
    What makes a piece of music sound sad? Or joyful? Or angry? Why does music have expressive power beyond words? Explore the different ways that music conveys emotion. Test your own responses to musical passages composed especially for the course. x
  • 5
    Brain Sources of Music's Emotional Power
    Delve deeper into the emotional reactions that people have to music. Feel the chills induced by certain musical passages and study the theories about where these powerful feelings come from. Then look at eight distinct psychological mechanisms by which music arouses emotions in listeners. x
  • 6
    Musical Building Blocks: Pitch and Timbre
    Focus on two processes that are fundamental to musicality: the perception of pitch and timbre. Pitch allows us to order sounds from low to high. Timbre lets us distinguish two sounds with the same pitch, loudness, and duration. Both pitch and timbre are constructed by the brain and have deep evolutionary roots. x
  • 7
    Consonance, Dissonance, and Musical Scales
    What brain processes lead people to hear certain intervals as more consonant and others as more dissonant? Evaluate the major theories, one of which traces the phenomenon to the acoustic quality of the human voice. Then examine the structure of musical scales. x
  • 8
    Arousing Expectations: Melody and Harmony
    Melodies and harmonies combine pitches according to rules that we have internalized through experience. Listen to musical examples that demonstrate unresolved and resolved expectations. Consider the analogy to grammar in language, and search for a connection between music and language in the brain. x
  • 9
    The Complexities of Musical Rhythm
    Begin your study of musical rhythm by distinguishing periodic from non-periodic rhythmic patterns. Periodicity can be thought of as beat; non-periodicity involves expressive techniques such as timing variations and phrasing. Close by asking whether composers write music in the rhythmic patterns of their native language. x
  • 10
    Perceiving and Moving to a Rhythmic Beat
    Look beneath the surface of a seemingly simple feature of music: beat. Discover that beat perception in humans is exceedingly complex and incorporates six distinct criteria. Then survey animal studies to see if other species share our talent for getting the beat. x
  • 11
    Nature, Nurture, and Musical Brains
    Use neuroimaging to investigate the ways that brains of musicians differ from those of non-musicians, asking whether the differences are due to nature or nurture - whether they are inborn or the result of experience. Pinpoint brain structures involved in such musical skills as absolute pitch. x
  • 12
    Cognitive Benefits of Musical Training
    Probe the ongoing research into the effects of musical training on the microstructure of the brain, which points to cognitive benefits in areas such as speech processing. Focus on how learning to play a musical instrument influences language acquisition and reading ability in children. x
  • 13
    The Development of Human Music Cognition
    Not all aspects of musicality mature in the brain at the same rate. Trace the developing music faculty in infants, who have already learned to recognize their mother's speech patterns and singing while in the womb. Examine research showing that singing is more effective than speech in calming infants. x
  • 14
    Disorders of Music Cognition
    Turn to cases where music cognition breaks down in disorders such as dystimbria and amusia. General Ulysses S. Grant and novelist Vladimir Nabokov appear to have been affected by amusia. Investigate what they and others with similar deficits miss when listening to music, and explore the underlying cause. x
  • 15
    Neurological Effects of Hearing Music
    Consider how the biological effects of listening to music might affect people with a wide range of medical conditions, from those undergoing surgery to premature infants, stroke victims, and Alzheimer's patients. Search for the biological mechanisms that make music a powerful balm for the mind and body. x
  • 16
    Neurological Effects of Making Music
    See how actively engaging in music can enhance communication and movement in patients with a variety of neurological disorders, including aphasia, Parkinson's disease, motor disorders, and autism. Music's connection to multiple brain systems appears to underlie its beneficial effect on these conditions. x
  • 17
    Are We the Only Musical Species?
    We may be the only animal that uses words, but we are not the only animal that sings. Survey music-making among other species, from fruit flies to gibbons, whales, parrots, and songbirds. Analyze the sound structure of their song to learn how it differs from ours. x
  • 18
    Music: A Neuroscientific Perspective
    Conclude the course by examining the biological significance of music though the lens of neuroscience. Look at five aspects of language that point to biological specialization in humans, and ask whether the same evidence also applies to music. How have we been shaped by nature to enjoy this very special type of sound? x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 18 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 18 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 18 lectures on 3 DVDs
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

Your professor

Aniruddh D. Patel

About Your Professor

Aniruddh D. Patel, Ph.D.
Tufts University
Dr. Aniruddh D. Patel is a Professor of Psychology at Tufts University. He received his Ph.D. in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University, where he studied with Edward O. Wilson and Evan Balaban. His research focuses on the cognitive neuroscience of music. Prior to arriving at Tufts, Professor Patel was the Esther J. Burnham Senior Fellow at The Neurosciences Institute, a scientific research...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor


Music and the Brain is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 73.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Patel’s Perfect Pitch Professor Patel may not have Absolute Pitch, but his course and delivery are spot on. I was not exactly sure what to expect when I ordered this course, but as I love music and studied science (although nothing remotely connected to psychology or cognitive neuroscience), I thought that this course would be a good fit. I was not disappointed, as Dr. Patel starts right out discussing music and musicality, why we humans have relative pitch, while other animals do not and several other related questions. Here in the first lecture rather than just stating where we are in answering any of these questions, Dr. Patel describes the studies that have been done to bring the state of knowledge to its present form. He does this throughout the course and while this might be boring to some, for me it led credibility to the arguments presented. Credit is given over and over to the various researchers and to those who have published their studies. Once again an approach I like, although a few more pictures of those luminaries would have added to the course. There were plenty of musical examples that supported the lectures: everything from a bit of Mozart to a whale imitating human voices. This is the only course I’ve taken so far that had a “course composer”, an idea that I found interesting, even though the examples presented were a bit limited. The set is one of newer ones with movable panels displaying topic related, faded images against a black background. Professor Patel is a smooth, accomplished presenter, moving easily from one camera to another—a skill that not all presenters possess. Very little on the downside, other than for me, not being familiar with the various regions of the brain, I had to listen very carefully as the terms flew by quickly, and were not always explained. Then again, my lack of prior knowledge should not drag down the presentation to a lower level. Recommended but I think that this is one of TTC’s more specialized courses and likely will not appeal unless you are already interested in the topic.
Date published: 2018-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Delivers exactly what the title promises I'm kind of obsessed with music. Dr Patel's study has helped me to answer the question of why we respond to music the way we do. He has a calm clear friendly delivery with abundant examples to back up his words. He hasn't answered all of my questions but his studies are ongoing so I can look forward to a future update. Not all of my questions are neurologically based though. For example, I have interests in the way music is used as a kind of tribal identity. My love of opera is probably in part due to being a bonding agent for friends of mine who also like opera. I watch videos of Rock and Roll concerts and crowd behavior observed does not seem to show music appreciation as much as it does group identity. I am reminded too of the way we used music during WWII (my age is showing) to whip up patriotic fervor. Hitler used music the same way to control his masses. Perhaps some day Dr Patel or one of his colleagues will shed more light on these. I recommend this course.
Date published: 2018-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and profitable. I liked the instructor siting precise scientific studies to support the concepts he was teaching. Spoke clearly and distinctly. Shared what I learned with senior friends, and they appreciated and thanked me for it. I would say the course is life-changing, because I now place more value on music presentations I make twice-a-week at the senior center. Important to me to have the healing properties of music established and proven.
Date published: 2018-08-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting. Even at my age I learn something from the Great Courses every day. Musci and the Brain is a good example.
Date published: 2018-08-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not thrilled with this presenter. I am not enjoying this very much. The presenter continually compares what happened "evolutionary". I really don't care what happens in the minds of monkeys or apes. I only care about humans. The questions I wanted answered are more like how does music help us to learn? How does music make us better people? Not how similar are our musical reactions to those of other primates.
Date published: 2018-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love this course Great course for understanding the neurobiologic effect music has on us
Date published: 2018-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Very interesting overview. I bought the audio download and listened to lectures while swimming laps. The professor was terrific -- excellent voice modulation and great, varied content to keep me interested. Comprehensive topics from music theory to singing whales and birds. As an amateur musician (I studied piano and guitar as a kid) who is interested in science and health, I found these topics very interesting. Top marks from me for this production.
Date published: 2018-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful, factually dense presentation I love this product. The presenter is clear, animated, and engaging. He shows a profound knowledge of the subject matter. Further, the production values are unusually good. The set design, camera work, illustrations and music excerpts are just excellent, even a cut above normal for Great Courses. I should mention that I listened on a high quality external speaker rather than the regular computer speaker. That helped. I only wish there were more courses by this presenter.
Date published: 2018-06-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from very interesting and informative I recently retired got interested in music.........
Date published: 2018-04-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from very interesting very interesting & helpful__with more caracters_zz
Date published: 2018-03-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Well, I thought it very informative; fascinating how scientists do studies that show how music works and what it can do. I have a better explanation for how music developed. It is a gift of God, given to man at creation. This explains why man is so far ahead of animals musically. While it is interesting to hear animals mimic humans, the differences are far greater than the similarities. What I'm waiting for yet is to get to heaven, where we'll be able to sing perfectly.
Date published: 2018-03-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing This course was not what I expected. Spent much to much time detailing the studies and their authors and not enough on the more practical relevance that music has in relation to the brain. There were some good moments which could have been explored and expanded on but those moments were quickly suppressed by the constant references to scientific studies. This is not to say that the material should not be based on scientific studies, but the information was not presented in an interesting and engaging manner.
Date published: 2018-03-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Explorations in Music and Mind We are partway through the series, finding it very engaging and with a wide range of experiments and theories to illustrate the lectures.
Date published: 2018-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the most interesting Great Courses After listening to this course I bought copies for my sons. Patel is an excellent lecturer and what he has to say about different languages, including tonal ones, how music affects the brain for both children's development and also as we age is fascinating. I liked it so much I bought the book he wrote also. I think this is one of the most important topics for understanding children's growth and development. It also discusses many different music systems . . .
Date published: 2017-12-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I bought this course from the perspective of a musician, interested in how rhythm and melodies stir emotions and why it is that certain patterns and frequency harmonics are either pleasing, interesting, easy or difficult to understand. If you want to get into a musicians head or unlock the secrets of melody, harmony and beat, this video isn't for you. Instead this is more a book about the brain, hemispheres, amygdala's and all that jazz, childhood learning and how music can influence intelligence. There was a lot of reviews of clinical studies and many "studies suggest, but we're not sure" this and that. Also there's too much Darwin thrown into this course Chapt 2-3 of the first disk is all Darwin, apes, monkeys and how we developed our music brains, the same old survival of the fittest meant we needed to be able to distinguish sounds of our enemy, etc, etc. So I don't really believe or need a hypothesis on why God gave me a better brain than a chimp. We can all hypothesize, but just tell me the current facts, observations and studies that support the current state of affairs. The author is an evolutionary biologist so his point of view shouldn't be surprising. That said, it's a good video if you're more interested in brain development than in writing music and some of the clinical studies are surprising and interesting to know. The author does a good job a presenting his material.
Date published: 2017-11-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from High level academic course Some of TGC courses are good for passive listening. Not Prof. Patel's. This is a high level academic journey -- which is what I for one expect of TGC -- and requires active, close listening. His effort is to acquaint the student with the most recent psychological, musicological and neuroscientific research in this new field. He points out that most of this information was not known 10 years ago, and some of the implications are astounding -- shedding light on the structure/functions of the brain, the relationship between language, auditory processing and music, new directions in neuro rehabilitation, etc. His presentation is confident, friendly and accessible. The guide is quite detailed and should be read along with each lecture. The only deficit -- which I attribute to the wealth and complexity of studies he cites -- is the ending summary. I made a list of the "take-away's" from the course, as there are some "whoppers." I wish he had given them himself at the end. Thus, and to repeat, the course is challenging and needs close listening, like any good college-level course, even about something as enjoyable as music.
Date published: 2017-09-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not for me Like listening to a bright grad student read a long Scientific American article about the latest research, and full of dutiful descriptions of basic biology and experiments. Why should the general listener be expected to care about the design of experiments? There was almost nothing in the four or five lectures that I went through before giving up and returning it that I found of interest. Given the generally high quality of the GC’s series, given how great Greenberg and Messenger are in the GC's other music titles, and given the GC's usual on-the-ballness about what an interested general audience wants to know, I was a little shocked by how bad this series was. Are they producing too many new titles? Have they hired a bunch of 25 year old producer/editors?
Date published: 2017-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating course This is one of the best, if not the best, of the many courses I have purchased from this company. The instructor is extremely knowledgeable and presents the material in a well-organized way. Anyone interested in music and psychology should find it fascinating.
Date published: 2017-09-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from interesting I enjoyed the neurology information/music affecting different parts of the brain. I didn't enjoy listening to the evolution theory in the first three lessons. The pictures of religion in your older dvds show representation of Eastern and Western religions, one image is a Madonna and Child, and a Bible for Christianity, your latest show 3 Eastern and one Cathedral (?), but no Christian Cross, or Bible or Madonna and Child. I would like to see at least on representation of the Christian faith. Thank You for your courses, they are a great benefit to those who enjoy learning.:
Date published: 2017-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A complex and rapidly growing field I learnt so much from Dr Patel's clear explanations of ideas and studies. His enthusiasm for his subject makes it easier to absorb.
Date published: 2017-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Update On An Exciting Field of Research As a PhD scientist, I really enjoyed hearing about this exciting area of research. It taught me so much, but also showed how much more there is to learn about this fascinating area of scientific research.
Date published: 2017-08-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from extensive and broad in scope most aspects of brain interaction and music are covered. It's almost too broad to comprehend in one sweep; better is to dip in at points of special interest. For examples: brain development and music cognition; influence of culture; music and emotion; musical scales and harmony
Date published: 2017-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! I am still working my way through this course (have to play it when my husband isn't in the car with me) but it is providing some answers that I was looking for.
Date published: 2017-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation of an interesting subject. If you are interested in music you will find this course very useful.
Date published: 2017-05-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from This one didn't work for me Regrets, but I found the presenter very off-putting. I'm not musical, so might just be a bad fit. He didn't do anything to persuade me to learn why I should listen to him. Annoyed yawn.
Date published: 2017-04-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Neuromusicology 101 How did music evolve in humans? Do other species (whales, birds) make music? Do differences in language (French vs. English, say) influence differences in music? Can listening to Mozart really improve a baby's IQ? How does music therapy work? These are just a few of the many fascinating topics in this course. Good things about this course are, well, just about everything: the interest of the subject matter, the presenter's expertise, his even-handedness (which amounts almost to sainthood, in some cases) in weighing evidence, and most of all the cutting-edge nature (as of 2017, when I took the course) of the research that he presents. I rated this course 4/5, instead of 5/5, just because I thought that some folks (including me) would find the vocabulary of contemporary neuroscience kind of effortful. I probably spent more time looking up the names of newly-discovered brain regions and imaging techniques than in viewing the course itself! On a practical note, this course works great in audio and there is no reason at all to order the video.
Date published: 2017-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very thorough and well paced I found this course to be very well organized and thorough, and enjoyed the professor's approach and presentation. The course is entirely focused on empirical research and well illustrated throughout. Some background in cognitive psychology would probably enhance participation in this course.
Date published: 2017-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous presenter I bought this because of the presenter, Dr. Aniruddh Patel. He is on the frontline of research concerning Music and the Brain. He is also an excellent teacher.
Date published: 2017-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very interesting I am still processing the information, and find each lesson an education that I have never had been able to access before now.
Date published: 2017-02-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Neuropsychology Very interesting lectures on the effects of music on the brain including normal brain and how music can help afflicted brains. To fully understand this course you need a background in brain anatomy and function though well explained by the lecturer.
Date published: 2017-02-11
  • y_2020, m_11, d_29, h_16
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.12
  • cp_2, bvpage2n
  • co_hasreviews, tv_5, tr_68
  • loc_en_US, sid_1181, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 58.88ms

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought