Stefan Koelsch’s music research

Stefan Koelsch’s team at the Freie Universität Berlin uses music to investigate the brain.

In a 2008 paper in NeuroReport, Koelsch and colleagues found that a single unexpected chord or tonal change can kick the amygdala into gear and elicit an emotional response. Click here to listen to an excerpt of the music that participants listened to.

In a 2006 paper in Human Brain Mapping, the researchers found that activity in emotional centers in the brain can be up or down regulated by music. Click here to hear pleasant and unpleasant versions of a tune used in the experiment.

Another study, published in 2008 in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, shows that kids who have trouble with language also have trouble recognizing irregular or “hanging” chords. Click here for excerpts from the study. The first example at the link is a chord that ends normally; the second ends in an irregular way. The third sequence mixes the chords.

A slightly older study, appearing in Nature Neuroscience in 2004, looks at semantic meaning of music. The researchers showed that brief excerpts of classical music prime both abstract and concrete nouns. One excerpt may lead a listener’s thoughts to the word “circle” while another may lead listeners to think of “mischief.” The surprising part is the pieces were unfamiliar to the participants. Click here to listen to excerpts and see what word those sequences primed.

For a list of Koelsch’s other papers, including accompanying audio files, visit

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