Music and Neuroscience


Authored by Susan Rogers


Course Code: OLMSC-250

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 2

Level 2

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


This course examines the neuroscience of music: listening, performing, creating, and appreciating musical artforms from a neuroanatomical and systems perspective. You will learn about the mechanisms that convert acoustical signals into neural patterns representing melody, rhyme, rhythm, and harmony. You will gain insight into why our response to music is so personalized as we examine topics such as expertise, emotion, preferences, and creativity from a neuroscientific perspective.

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The aim of this course is to give you a better understanding of our unique minds. You’ll learn about the ways in which all music listeners are basically the same, and the ways in which they show great individual differences. You’ll learn about the relationship between music listening and emotional responses, including a journey into our preferences and what shaped them. As we explore the creative brain, you may be inspired to dive deeper into your own source of creative thinking.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Summarize theories of how and why the human brain evolved a capacity for music
  • Describe the nervous system from individual neurons to structural organization
  • Name and describe the auditory path and brain regions specialized for sensation, perception, and cognition
  • Describe how music, speech, and rhythm signals are neurally encoded by the brain
  • Describe the role of synchronization and oscillation in the nervous system for perceiving and appreciating rhythm
  • Explain the ways in which musical training shapes the brain and fine tunes auditory processing skills
  • Link affective responses to music such as emotion and preferences to the neurotransmitters and brain activity that produce these phenomena
  • Define and describe the neurobiology and behaviors of creativity
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Adaptation, Sexual Selection, and Communicating Emotions

  • Why Do Humans Make Music?
  • Evolution
  • Is Music an Adaptation?
  • Sexual Selection Theories
  • Support for Sexual Selection
  • Communication Theories
  • Gene-Culture Coevolution
  • Do Other Species Have Music?
  • Non-human Responses to Music
  • Emotional Universals and Music
  • Assignment 1: Musilanguage

Lesson 2: Neuroanatomy of the Brain

  • Organization of the Nervous System
  • Neurons
  • Neural Circuits
  • Neural Systems
  • How Neurons Communicate
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Brain Structures
  • Neuroimaging Tools
  • From Brain to Mind: Sensation, Perception, Cognition
  • Sensation Is What Excites Us
  • Perception Is Awareness
  • Cognition Is Internalized Action
  • Assignment 2: Introduction to the Brain

Lesson 3: Hearing and Hearing Disorders

  • Neuroanatomy of Hearing
  • Three Sections of the Ear
  • Hair cells
  • Measuring Auditory Processing
  • ABR
  • FFR
  • MMN
  • Hearing in Childhood, Adolescence, and Adulthood
  • Hearing in Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Tinnitus and ‘Hidden Hearing Loss’
  • Tinnitus
  • Hidden Hearing Loss
  • Sidebar: Hearing Protection
  • Assignment 3: Musicians and Hearing Loss

Lesson 4: Musical Training and the Brain

  • Musical Training Enhances the Auditory System
  • Primer: Fundamentals, Partials, and Harmonics
  • Selective Enhancement
  • Workshop: Vocab Review
  • Musical Training Shapes the Brain
  • Cross-Cultural Music Processing
  • Musical Expertise
  • The Singer’s Brain
  • Assignment 4: Musicians and Nonmusicians

Lesson 5: Aging and Plasticity

  • How Neural ‘Rewards’ Shape the Auditory Cortex
  • Auditory Templates
  • Music and Aging: Dementia and Cognitive Skills
  • Elderly Musicians and Nonmusicians
  • Plasticity in Older Brains
  • The Neural Substrates of Singing
  • Effects of Choir Singing in Elderly Persons
  • Assignment 5: Music Learning Experiments

Lesson 6: The Formation of Auditory Streams

  • Auditory Scene Analysis
  • An Example of Auditory Stream Segregation
  • The Role of Attention
  • The Descending Auditory Pathway
  • Outer Hair Cells and Auditory Focus
  • Timbre Perception
  • Hierarchical Processing of Timbre
  • Spatial Localization
  • Locating Orchestral Musicians
  • Neural Representation
  • Assignment 6: Your Own Auditory Scene Analysis

Lesson 7: Information Coding: Pitch, Harmony, and Melody

  • Encoding Music in the Brain
  • Rapid Encoding of Musical Tones
  • Predictive Coding
  • Fast and Slow Processing
  • Encoding Pitch
  • Pitch and Task Dependence
  • Harmony
  • Phase-Locking in the Auditory Brainstem
  • Consonance Enhancement
  • Melody
  • Individual Differences
  • Universality of Melodic Responses
  • Assignment 7: What Does the Song Mean?

Lesson 8: Information Coding: Speech and Lyrics

  • Language, Action, and Music
  • Interactions in Broca’s Area
  • Voices in the Brain
  • Temporal Voice Areas
  • Selectivity for Sung Music
  • Vocalizing, Rap, and Poetry
  • A Dual Model of Vocalizing
  • Neural Correlates of Freestyle Rap
  • Rhythm and Rhyme
  • Assignment 8: Personal Reaction to Lyrics

Lesson 9: Information Coding: Rhythm

  • Oscillations in the Brain
  • Tying Neural Patterns Together
  • Oscillations and Speech
  • Entrainment
  • Beat Perception and Synchronization
  • Rhythm Perception
  • The Sensation of Groove
  • Musicians, Nonmusicians, and Dancers
  • Beat Deafness
  • Early- and Late-Stage Rhythm Processing
  • Assignment 9: Rhythm Perception

Lesson 10: Emotional Responses to Musical Sounds

  • Sound Is a Form of Touch
  • Musical Anhedonia
  • The Chill Response
  • Feeling Maps
  • Music as Mediator
  • Mechanisms of Music-Induced Emotion
  • Expectancy
  • Anticipation
  • Dopamine and the Rewards of Music
  • Assignment 10: Your Musical Emotions

Lesson 11: Preferences: Liking and Disliking Music

  • Rapid Aesthetic Responses
  • Liking vs. Wanting
  • The Default Mode Network
  • The DMN and Musical Taste
  • A Chronometry of Liking
  • The Inverted U of Liking
  • Sensation Seeking
  • Music Modulates Risk Evaluation
  • Personality and Preferences
  • Summarizing Studies
  • Global Correlations
  • Assignment 11: Choose Your Research

Lesson 12: The Creative Brain

  • Defining Creativity
  • Measuring Creativity
  • Neurological Underpinnings
  • Insight
  • Creative Individuals
  • Creativity and Schizotypy
  • Final Thoughts
  • Assignment 12: Culminating Experience


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
This course does not have any prerequisites.



Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Susan Rogers

Author & Instructor

Susan Rogers holds a Doctorate in Psychology from McGill University (2010), where she studied music cognition and psychoacoustics under researchers Daniel Levitin and Stephen McAdams. Her research focuses on auditory memory, the perception of musical signals, and the influence of musical training on auditory development. For two decades prior to her science career, Susan was one of the world's few women known for her work as a record producer, engineer, mixer, and audio electronics technician. Career highlights include five years (1983-1987) as staff engineer for Prince, producing hit singles for diverse artists such as Barenaked Ladies, David Byrne, Robben Ford, Jeff Black, and Rusted Root, mixing hit singles for an equally eclectic list including Tricky, Michael Penn, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Tevin Campbell, and engineering for a host more.

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Susan is a professor at Berklee College of Music in the departments of Music Production & Engineering and Liberal Arts, and is the director of the Berklee Music Perception and Cognition Laboratory. In 2012, she was awarded the Distinguished Faculty Award, Professional Writing and Music Technology Division.

In tandem with business partner and former student Matthew McArthur (Berklee '10), Susan launched Boston's first not-for-profit recording studio, The Record Company, to offer low-cost recording facilities to area musicians and free music technology instruction to area teens. Read Less


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