The Power of Music

Music has charms to
soothe the savage breast
To soften rocks,
or bend a knotted oak.

William Congreve (1670 - 1729),
The Mourning Bride, Act 1 Scene 1



The Four Essentials Recipe

  1. Diet & Nutrition
  2. Exercise & Movement
  3. Behavior & Activity
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By Dr. Joel C. Robertson, from his best selling book, Natural Prozac

Music is one of the most powerful tools for changing brain chemistry. It alters our chemistry instantly, with no known negative side effects. If chosen well, music can be medicine for the mind and soul.

Virtually all the great composers have created music that alternately boosted serotonin and increased norepinephrine and dopamine. Compare the slow movement of a Beethoven symphony to a fast movement, for example. But almost every composer also created certain pieces that maintain a particular spirit and mood. This means that we can use individual pieces of great music to change our brain chemistries in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

In order to help you explore the effects of music on brain chemistry, I offer a short list of composers and artists, along with examples of their music that boost either serotonin or norepinephrine. Remember that this is just a sampling; it would be impossible within the scope of this article to provide a comprehensive list of pieces or composers. I encourage you to explore the realm of music and its effects on brain chemistry. It's a great way to maintain a certain atmosphere in your life – either calming soothing, and serotonin boosting or exciting, inspiring and norepinephrine boosting.

Please remember that this list is rather subjective. This is a general list that may not fit you; you will need to tailor it for your own use.

Serotonin Boosters

Classical Composers

  • Bach: especially the Brandenberg Concertos and “Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring”
  • Beethoven: “Ode to Joy” (the choral movement from his Ninth Symphony)
  • Chopin: especially his Preludes. Roy Eaton's “The Meditative Chopin” combines a variety of serotonin-boosting pieces from Chopin for piano
  • Handel: especially “Water Music”
  • Mozart: Allegro from Sonata Facile no. 16; Adagio from Clarinet Concerto; Andante from Piano Concerto no. 21; Overture from “The Magic Flute”; many others
  • Pachelbel: Canon. The Canon is not being produced with ocean sounds in the background – very calming, soothing and serotonin boosting.
  • Vivaldi: especially “The Four Seasons”, a major serotonin booster

Folk Music

Virtually all folk music is serotonin boosting. Choose any of the old favorites that most appeal to you.

Jazz and Rhythm and Blues

Rhythm and blues can be pretty depressing, especially if you're already depressed. Don't get me wrong – this genre offers a lot of great music, but most of the lyrics focus on life's travails. Many people find such music highly cathartic, emotional and healing, but others can be brought even lower by the deep suffering that the music often expresses. Therefore, I recommend exercising some caution in this category, at least until you feel ready to deal with your own deep emotional pain.

Jazz, on the other hand, can be incredibly uplifting and joyful. It can be melodic and soothing (thus a serotonin booster) or exciting and arousing (a norepinephrine booster). Choose the pieces you especially enjoy for their desired effects.

Rock and Roll

Most rock and roll is norepinephrine and dopamine boosting. However, rock is often hard to classify. Even hard rock bands produce serotonin-boosting songs from time to time, such as Guns and Roses' “November Rain.” Also, some people think of the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkle, for example as rock artists, though a great many of the Beatles' songs are serotonin boosters. (“I Will”; “Here, There and Everywhere”; “Something”; “Michele”; and many others), just as are most of Simon and Garfunkle's music (“Bridge over Troubled Water” is the classic examples). There are many rock artists who produce softer serotonin-boosting music. Once you get the hang of classifying music according to its effects on brain chemistry, you'll be able to go through your musical library and choose accordingly.

Musical Theatre

The music of musical theatre is generally upbeat and inspiring. Many of the stories have a happy ending and this boosts serotonin, too. Of course, there are exceptions, such as Leonard Bernstein's “West Side Story” and Andrew Lloyd Webber's “Miss Saigon” – musicals that offer perhaps more catharsis than uplift. The following list includes the names of some classic serotonin-boosting musicals.

  • Cole Porter: “Anything Goes” and others
  • Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rogers: “ Oklahoma ”, “The Sound of Music”, “Carousel”, “South Pacific”, and many others
  • Frank Loesser: “Guys and Dolls” and others
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber: “Cats”, “Phantom of the Opera”, and others
  • Stephen Sondheim: “A Little Night Music” and many other
  • Marvin Hamlish: “A chorus Line”
  • Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe: “My Fair Lady”

Neopinephrine and Dopamine Boosters

Classical Composers

  • Beethoven: most of the music from the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies is arousing and will boost dopamine and norepinephrine
  • Kabalevsky: “Gallop” from Opus 39, no. 18
  • Mozart: Overture from “The Marriage of Figaro”; Menuetto from “A Little Night Music”; Serenade no. 13
  • Tchaikovsky: most of “The Nutcracker” is arousing, as is much of Tchaikovsky's music

Rock and Roll

Most of modern rock and roll is arousing and consequently will boost norepinephrine and dopamine. There are endless choices to suit your tastes. Bruce Springstein's album “Born to Run” is a classic norepinephrine and dopamine booster.