How a Song Brings Out Your Beast – And 3 Songs To Listen To During Your Next Workout

Music motivates. But how, exactly? We asked Dr. Jessica Grahn of Western University’s Music and Neuroscience Lab to tune us in.

K. Aleisha Fetters |

We’ve all got the workout playlist. That assortment of songs that get you pumped and keep you going a little longer than you would be able to if you were listening to the grunts of the person next to you on the treadmill. This is the science behind songs and why they make you go from bum to beast mode:


Your outer ear funnels the song’s sound waves into your middle ear and then inner ear, where they vibrate the 200 microlitres of fluid in your spiral-shaped cochlea.

Related: Science Explains Why These 9 Songs Are The All-Time Most Catchy,  And How To Get Them Out Of Your Head

Tiny hair cells sense this motion and convert the vibrations into electrical signals that spur the release of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that stimulates a nerve fibre to carry the signals to your brain.


Your auditory brain stem and auditory cortex perceive sound and distinguish pitch, notes, and melody. Meanwhile, the vocals go to the Wernicke area of your brain. At first they’re garbled, like the words of adults in Peanuts, but they soon become clear. (Science hasn’t figured out why.)

Related: Digital Devices Are Stressing Your Eyes


Pitch, notes, melody, and lyrics all travel to the limbic pathway or emotional response system of your brain, which focuses on fast tempos and upbeat chords. Within this region, the amygdala makes connections between the song and good memories (like when you heard it at a 5K you crushed)

Related: 15 Instant Ways to Make Yourself Happier


With your limbic pathway activated, neurons fire in your nucleus accumbens, the mosh pit of your brain’s reward centre. There’s a rush of dopamine – a brain chemical linked to orgasms. These vibes echo through your cerebral reward hub, and your dopamine high overrides fatigue and anxiety.


With the song’s final notes, the dopamine surge sub – sides, returning you to where you began – but with a sweet feeling of accomplishment, and a stronger ingrained memory of the song’s power. Use this to your advantage in the future.

Related: 4 South African Dance Tracks You Should Listen To

Your New Jam

Four-beat songs energise the most: Try “Legend Has It” (Run the Jewels), “Learn to Fly” (Foo Fighters), and, er… “Take On Me” (A-Ha)

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