10 incredible benefits of listening to classical music

17 October 2023, 19:17

10 amazing benefits of listening to classical music. Pictured: Yo-Yo Ma
10 amazing benefits of listening to classical music. Pictured: Yo-Yo Ma. Picture: Getty

By Rosie Pentreath

From improving memory to reducing stress, listening to classical music can have surprising and astounding benefits. Discover the potential classical music has to improve your life.

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Listening to classical music is an enjoyable, often profound, and nearly always completely joyous activity. But it’s also good for us.

Studies have shown that classical music can improve memory and reduce stress, boost overall mental wellbeing, and even improve children’s performance in school.

Join us in discovering and celebrating 10 incredible and surprising ways classical music can bring benefits to all our lives.

Read more: Classical music boosts mental health and wellbeing in isolation, study finds

  1. Improving memory

    In 1957, more than 10,000 high school graduates in Wisconsin were invited to fill out a survey about their school, family income, and future life goals. Their responses were cross-referenced with their engagement with music activities captured in yearbook entries.

    The same group of people were surveyed in the years 1964, 1975, 1993, 2004 and 2011, and their lifetime of responses was collected as data that revealed that 38 percent of them played music in high school, and 21 percent played music in adulthood.

    They were then invited to participate in memory recall tests and the musicians were found to perform better across the board. And the more music they had played, the better their memory test scores had been.

    Read more: Spine-tingling moment ballerina with Alzheimer’s remembers routine to Swan Lake

    Norwegian Chamber Orchestra play Prokofiev from memory

  2. Reducing stress

    Listening to classical music has been proven to reduce stress. From the moment the play button is gently clicked, your heart-rate starts to slow, and your blood pressure lowers, the stress of the day floating away to be replaced with the pleasing feeling of familiarity or the joy of making a new discovery as you listen.

    Various studies have shown that music reduces cortisol levels associated with stress, including one piece of research published by Chanda and Levitin in 2013 which sought to demonstrate the direct impact music has on neurochemical systems for creating reward, motivation, and pleasure responses, reducing stress and arousal, boosting immunity, and improving social affiliation.

    “We’ve found compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a health care role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics,” professor Daniel Levitin said. “But even more importantly, we were able to document the neurochemical mechanisms by which music has an effect in four domains: management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding.”

    Read more: 10 most relaxing pieces of classical music

    Man reacts as his baby sings Wheels of a Dream in sweet footage

  3. Boosting mental wellbeing

    In 2020, while the world grappled with lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London conducted a study looking into the role classical music was playing in helping people through the difficult day-to-day.

    The study found that listening to orchestral music helped boost respondents’ mood in times of worry and stress. 35 percent of people said listening to orchestral music helped them to relax and feel calm during lockdown, and a further 18 percent said orchestral music lifted their spirits during times of worry.

    Classical music makes you happier, basically.

    Cellist Yo-Yo Ma plays Schubert’s Ave Maria at vaccine clinic

  4. Eliminating causes of depression

    The logical conclusion of these reductions in the neurochemical responses to stress, and the role music can play in our lives at times of uncertainty, trends nicely towards music’s potential to eliminate causes of depression.

    “Culture and the arts bring meaning to our lives [and] make us the human beings we are and give structure and sense to the society we create; they provide us with real values and fulfil our mental and emotional existence,” conductor Vasily Petrenko said in relation to the 2021 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra study above.

    “Today at a time of unprecedented risk and anxiety, the orchestral genre has once again helped people and as musicians we are desperate to join in the battle to rebuild society, to help people improve their mental health, to fire their spirit and to give comfort during this most isolated and most lonely time in our modern history.”

  5. Lowering blood pressure

    Part of classical music’s stress-reducing power lies in its ability to quite literally lower blood pressure.

    If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes, according to the NHS.

    Persistent high blood pressure can increase a person’s risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening health conditions, including heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, kidney disease and vascular dementia.

    According to a 2022 study of music and the brain, there is a clear physical explanation for how music lowers blood pressure. The vagus nerve, which is the main nerve of your parasympathetic nervous system controlling specific body functions such as your digestion, heart rate and immune system, is located near the eardrum, and responds to musical vibrations by triggering the body to relax. In the study, participants’ blood pressure became lower after listening to slow classical music.

    Read more: The most soothing pieces of classical music – in Mental Health Awareness Month

    Violinist performs while having brain surgery

  6. Improving physical movement

    Teams at Harvard found an even more extraordinary benefit linked to classical music. Music therapy was being proven to help stroke survivors regain movement and speech through something called ‘entrainment’.

    Entrainment describes the process where a repeated musical pulse activates neurons in the brain. “When you hear a steady rhythm, it activates your auditory system but also automatically engages your motor system,” music therapist Brian Harris told Harvard. “When people entrain, it makes the neurological process more efficient because everything fires at the same time.”

    People were found to be able to recall music and sing more easily than to regain the speech they’ve lost, in a surprisingly high number of cases.

    Read more: ‘Smart gloves’ could allow stroke patients to relearn to play the piano

  7. Relieving pain

    Similarly, music can be funnelled into pain management and elimination. The same neurons that can be activated by music in the process of entrainment can be the source and solution to easing pain for people.

    In 2010, these scientists looked at what happened when they programmed entrainment music to match the frequency of a child or adolescent’s pain, and once that was matched, changed the music to have the frequency of ‘healing’. They identified positive results.

  8. Improving sleep patterns

    It follows that relaxing classical music that reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and gives listeners an overall sense of mental wellbeing would improve sleep for people.

    While it would be a shame to miss beautiful moments of classical music by sleeping through them, it’s helpful to think about creating the right conditions for a peaceful slumber. The incredible benefits of listening to classical music can be carried from the waking day through to a relaxing night.

    Read more: Study finds Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata most popular music to fall asleep to

    This incredible cellist played a Brahms lullaby to help airline passengers sleep

  9. Improving literacy and numeracy

    Many studies and programs have linked children’s progress with their access to music.

    In 1993, scientists at the University of California, Irvine, reported on the ‘Mozart effect’, the phenomenon where individuals who listened to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos (K448) for 10 minutes significantly increased their spatial reasoning skills compared to those who listened to either silence or relaxation audio designed to lower blood pressure.

    Other studies have linked music and attention span, and ongoing positive impacts especially for young people then seeing an improvement in their wider learning as a direct result.

    Read more: Study reveals children who play a musical instrument have better memory and attention span

    'The Mozart Effect': classical music can have positive effects on young people
    'The Mozart Effect': classical music can have positive effects on young people. Picture: Getty
  10. Boosting immunity

    How does sound relate to immunity, and your body’s response to disease?

    Your immune system is your body’s defence against infection and disease. If you’re ill, your immune system produces antibodies that attack the cause of the illness.

    According to a 2019 study, music has a positive impact on our immune systems because of its ability to induce relaxation and alleviate stress and anxiety, as detailed in the examples above.

    Music has also been found to have literal impacts on hormones and biomarkers involved in the body’s immune response.


    Sir Anthony Hopkins plays his own music, on a hotel lobby piano

Listen to Classic FM’s ‘Baby Bedtime’ playlist on Global Player – non-stop soothing music to relax your little ones.