Ep. 166: Every Brain Needs Music: The Neuroscience of Making and Listening to Music; with authors Larry Sherman, PhD, and Dennis Plies, DA

How does music affect the brain?

Photo by David Matos on Unsplash

Whether you are a professional musician or music enthusiast, prepare to meet your new favorite book on the neuroscience of music! We discuss the science of effective practice; the intricate and distinct neurological processes utilized for musical composition, improvisation, practice, and performance; and the profound impact of music on brain development. As the conversation unfolds, listeners gain a profound understanding of how music ignites creativity and enhances cognitive functions, offering a thought-provoking journey into the remarkable intersection of music and neuroscience.


 I have two guests joining me today from the state of Oregon. Dr. Dennis Plies is a professional classical and jazz musician and teacher. He was a musical prodigy from early childhood, and was a professor of music at Warner Pacific University for over thirty-five years. Dr. Larry Sherman is a professor of neuroscience at the Oregon Health and Science University. He’s been a pianist since age four, and has published widely on brain development, aging, and disease, and given lectures on music and the brain throughout the world. Together, they wrote a book published this year called, “Every Brain Needs Music: The Neuroscience of Making and Listening to Music.

Dr. Dennis Plies
Dr. Larry Sherman


We discuss:

  • I highly recommend this book! It covers a lot of ground and some heavy topics involving neuroscience and pedagogical techniques… and somehow the authors manage to do this in an engaging way, with humor.
  • The authors “hope [to] offer readers unique insights into music, the art of teaching, learning, and creativity…”
  • How the book came to be.
  • This book is a natural extension of the talks on the neuroscience of music Larry has been giving for more than a decade, as well as of his own laboratory research. Larry studies ways to repair brain damage in people with diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. He eventually combined his passions for neuroscience and music to develop a talk, and now—with Dennis—a book, on music and the brain.
  • This book is for anyone who loves music and is interested in gaining insights into how we create music, teach and learn music, and perform and listen to music. The insights apply to how we teach/learn in general, and to the underlying nature of creativity itself.
  • The book is divided into 8 “movements”. We give a taste of what each movement explores, including:
    • What is music, and why does it exist?
    • How the human brain translates vibrations of air molecules into music.
    • How the human brain creates music.
    • The classical brain versus the jazz brain.
    • How to practice.
    • Understanding the neuroscience of practicing.
    • Best practices for music practicing.
    • The science of learning strategies.
    • How practice changes your brain, including changes in motor, sensory, and cognitive functions; neurogenesis; formation of new neural networks; neural plasticity; and myelination.
    • How musical training can alter one’s analytical thinking skills and entertainment choices; expand one’s outlook; increase the depth and complexity of perspective; increase happiness and curiosity; and create lifelong learners.
    • The intricate and distinctly different neurological processes utilized for music composition, improvisation, practice, and performance.
    • How your brain listens to music and comes to like or dislike different types of music.
    • How music is like a drug and impacts cannabinoid receptors.
    • Eight different benefits of feeling sadness when listening to sad music.
  • A couple quotes from the book:
    • “By the end of this journey, you will better understand how human beings create, practice, perform, and listen to music. You will also gain insights into how the neuroscience underlying these activities can help you appreciate the origins of your own creativity, inspire approaches to teaching and learning, and reveal whole new ways to appreciate the music and other art around you.”
    • “We hope [this book] helps you consider how challenging your brain to learn something new that involves movement, sensation, and cognition can lead to remarkable changes not only in the structure of your brain but also in who you are as a human being.”

Connect/Other Resources

Other episodes we mentioned or that you may enjoy:

In-Episode Promo

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Larry shares one way he uses music-making to break through grant-writer’s block, which involves improvisational playing at the piano. For more on Larry’s improvising, see below:

Closing Words

And that is a little clip of Larry’s improvising. You can watch a video in the show notes for more on his improvising. Thank you so much to Dennis and Larry for joining us today, and for putting this incredible book out into the world! I highly recommend it, whether you’re a music professional, an educator considering this as a textbook to add to your curriculum, or a music enthusiast.

All Enhance Life with Music episodes are evergreen; so check out the back catalogue for more ways that music can make your life better.

You can always connect with me on email (mindy@mpetersonmusic.com), Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for joining me today. Until next time, may your life be enhanced with music.

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2 responses to “Ep. 166: Every Brain Needs Music: The Neuroscience of Making and Listening to Music; with authors Larry Sherman, PhD, and Dennis Plies, DA”

  1. Listening to this episode, 10 so inspire me to get back to playing my accordion, and I may even want to get the book to read. Really enjoyed this podcast!