Music intertwining with Life – Interview with Dr. David Greenberg

Music has evolved over time that it has encompassed many aspects of our lives. It can tell historical tales or our personal experiences, empower us by evoking emotions, even be a tool for therapy/healing. Dr. David Greenberg researches music in how it connects itself with life, how it can be predicted with personality and cognition, and even how it can be used to aid with mental health and autism. Although we all can relate to a song or have emotional connections to one, Dr. Greenberg understands their holistic connections with our lives.


This is the first I have heard of music psychology. Can you explain its history, from its foundation to its growth within the branch of psychology?

Music psychology and music therapy have been around for several decades. The formal history of the latter can be found here:

Though these areas have been formally established as a field in science for the past several decades, music has been used as a therapeutic tool for thousands of years including Pythagoras and even prior.

Reading over your articles and research paper, you promoted music as a tool for healing and as a link to personality and cognitive styles (namely with the dichotomous Empathizing-Systemizing Theory). What got you interested in researching music psychology?

Music has been my passion since I was born. throughout my entire life since, I’ve gravitated to the healing aspects of music and its transformative nature. Research is one of the ways that I try to unlock the many mysteries about music. The other way is through my pursuits as a musician. Most musicians are scientist but don’t know it – their testing lab is on the stage in front of a live audience.

You explained in your research that those who prefer empathizing tend to listen to emotional and soothing music (soul, soft rock, etc.)

People tend to listen to music that reflects and reinforces their internal states and though processes. For empathizers, music that is mellow, sad, and emotional deep reflects the way in which they see and interact with the world. Systemizers tend to search for patterns and systems that govern the world and tend to go into tech and I.T. fields. We found that not only did they like intense music but also avant-garde classical, which may serve as a musical puzzle that poses the challenge of discovering the system that underlies it.

I understand that listening to music can evoke emotions, whether it be happy or sad. It even can be used to manage pain. Can you explain why music has an impact on us, both at a mental and biological level?

We are hardwired for music. Babies 6 months to 2 years even recognize music that is played to them in the womb. In part, music is tied to our neurobiology. The music we listen to involves a complex reward system in the brain. But there are many more complexities. For example, there is theory that prolactin [milk hormone] is released in response to sad music, which is why sad music can be pleasurable rather than distressing.

Beyond the brain, music can be transformative personally and socially. It can help with depression and other clinical situations. It can help nonverbal children with autism speak. And it can bring people from conflicting cultures together. Further, certain music listening and performance techniques can facilitate processes of transcendence and self-discovery.

Can you tell me what it is like researching under the music psychology branch? What are some of the rewarding aspects and limitations within the research?

The rewarding aspects is that it can have a direct application to clinical and health settings and also industry. Many companies are beginning to use our research on music and personality which is exciting.

Music can be extremely powerful, but many people don’t know how to use music to its full potential. Unfortunately, many scientific instruments are not enhanced enough to capture the profound impact that music can have, so much of research is reductive and limiting.

Would your recommend everyone to try out an instrument, let alone learn to play one? What are some of the benefits of doing so?

When you learn to play music, you don’t only learn music, but you learn about life. You’re learning about math, you’re learning about emotions, you’re learning how to interact with people, but most of all you’re learning about yourself. There science emerging showing that music lessons at an early age can have positive impacts on brain development.

Last question, are there any advice you would like to give to future music therapists or researchers?

More and more, the world is becoming a place where music therapies and music research is both needed and accepted. However, there can be a tendency for music researchers to conduct research for knowledge’s sake without a clear application for the real world. As researchers and therapists we have to focus our efforts on projects that will be of most use to individuals and society. We have to expand our discussions beyond just the academic community and involve people and communities from all walks of life. How can we better use music to heal? How can we use music to facilitate transformative experiences? How can we better build community and dialogue through music? These are all questions worth exploring. We need to use all of our resources and be creative with cutting-edge technology while at the same time using theory and practices that have been around for centuries, to inform how music will be used in the future.


Even now I listen to calm and soothing music while making this article. As music continues to grow in our lives, I expect researchers such as Dr. Greenberg to continuously research music to benefit our lives. If you guys are interested more of his work, more of his articles/research papers can be located here. If you are interested in your personality’s connection to music or find out if you’re more of an empathic/systemizing person (I got an empathizing score of 56 vs. systemizing score of 14), you can visit for more information/quizzes.

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  1. The thing I find most interesting is that music works just like a language and while it does convey specific emotions at times, one thing that i find after listening to a track over and over is that the music itself can be as sporadic as the emotions we feel. Music connects do many emotions together to the point where you can come away with a different message from the same song every time you listen to it.

  2. As someone who feels connected with music myself I greatly enjoyed this article. At one point in time I thought about using music practice with therapy, and I may go back to this idea. It was interesting getting Dr. Greenberg’s input on some of the ways that music influences a person’s personality, and character traits. For further research it may be interesting to study how music preferences change as a person’s develop, and also how it relates to the development of certain personality traits.

    This article was very informative, and made great use of links to allow the reader to have plenty of access to continued education through Dr. Greenberg , and otherwise if they would like to learn more. One thing thing that could use some revision is some of the grammar within the article, and the fact that the images provided as reference seem to be broken. Other than those minor revisions this article was an excellent read.

  3. It’s interesting to see how lately, more and more importance is being given to fields such as music psychology, especially in an age where interdisciplinary fields are greatly valued, but it is also important to realise that things like music-therapy have been around for quite some time. I personally rely on music very heavily as an outlet of whatever emotions I have, and it’s interesting to read that music not only affects us emotionally and socially, but there are also biological effects of music on the human body.

    (The article does contain some minor grammatical errors which probably can be done away with by re-writing some phrases in a more concise manner.)

  4. This was a very interesting article to read! It is heartwarming to read about how something that almost everyone experiences and connects with is starting to be considered and used for formal clinical and health settings. Though music-therapy has been around for a long time, it mostly exists at a personal level (e.g. listening to sad music when sad, listening to rock music or playing musical instruments to vent emotions). As a fan of music myself, I am very excited to see how music-therapy can develop in the future. I feel that music as therapy is very promising, as it is something everyone has access to and can enjoy, and is not limited by one’s own ability to express. For example, while art therapy has been established to be a useful tool in therapy, some people may stumble when trying to express their thoughts and creativity into visual representations. On the other hand, music, at its basic level, only entails and requires the person to listen. However, while it is accessible for most of the population, this will prevent the deaf community from receiving its benefits. I would have liked to read more about possible alternatives for the deaf community in this article. Are there other non-audio alternatives that can offer the similar therapeutic benefits to the deaf?

    In addition, my concern about using music to determine personality is that one’s preference in music is likely to not be the only determinant of his or her personality. For example, one might prefer certain genres of music because of other reasons, like the influence of family and peers, or he/she might just be following the popular trend. Thus, while companies and organisations can incorporate music as an aspect of personality-testing, I feel that other means should also be employed in conjunction.

    Nonetheless, this interview has highlighted clearly the powerful therapeutic effects of music, but also acknowledged that more research and real-life applications could be done. It has thus clearly stated our position with music therapy at current. I am very excited to learn more about its developments in the future. In addition, is it possible that music can also be applied to other areas like education? I am aware that music can be manipulated to aid memory consolidation (playing the same music while studying and sleeping), or that using a tune can help students remember formulas better (e.g. the quadratic function song!). Why is it that then that music has not been reaped for its benefits as much?

  5. I am really happy to see that more and more people believe that music can be used as an instrument to heal and I would really like to see how what kind of methods the pyschologists have come up with in order to implement music in their therapy session. To see an actualy case study and see the improvements or downsides people go through would be really interesting to see.

    However I still have my doubts about the connection between the type of music you listen to and personality. Yes, it can influence you, increase your EQ but I don’t see how it becomes part of your personality, but I definitely like to see more information about this.

  6. I often wonder how composers make their music in a way that facilitates thought and emotion. Knowing now that there are categories such as empathizers and systemizers makes sense when it comes to it. While I’ve heard that music has positive effects biologically, I’d like some more insight on exactly what happens, but I suppose that is research for me.

    As a music performance major, I enjoy reading articles that promotes music making. Musicians essentially learn a new language when it comes to music and it’s great to see that people are applying that language to science and adapting it to help those who need it. It’s especially curious when there are so many instruments and sounds out there that can trigger responses. I can’t wait to see this sort of science develop and grow.

  7. Awesome article! I was involved in the music program at my school from 6th to 12th grade. A lot of what’s in this article are facts similar to the ones that we used in our arguments to the school board when they wanted to take away our band director. They are also facts that I still use to this day to show people just how important music is, not only in child development but also in everyday life. You can never outgrow music because it grows with you. I also completely agree with the segment about learning an instrument. I think that being able to say “Hey, I can play the accordion” or “I know how to play the guitar” are not only great conversation starters but also show that you have developed many skills along the path of learning that instrument.

  8. It does make sense that music can affect a person in so many ways; after all, there are brain scans that show how music really activates the different regions of the brain. About the personalities, there does seem to be some correlation between certain personality types preferring certain types of music, though I’d be interested in a more thorough research on that. For example, why do certain personalities like certain music? How does systematic music actually look like on a scan of a person who likes that music versus someone who prefers more emotional music? Would there even be a difference?

    Regardless, it is easy to see the benefits of listening to music. A lot of people use music on a personal scale, whether they are aware of musical therapy or not. We do see it in pop culture, after all; movies and books where a heartbreak or difficult situation causes the character to just listen to some music they either find relatable or use as a means of escape.

  9. This is a great topic to research. I could very much agree with the benefits of learning to play music. I’ve always felt that not only is it interesting to know how to play an instrument, but I find it to become a very meditative thing to do. It’s something that brings most of your attention to while playing and can be seen as an emotional release. Also it is a healthy habit to have as well, being that music is a good source for channeling ones emotions into and has a beneficial aspect with learning more about oneself.
    With further research I feel music therapy would become a more popular and beneficial thing to others. As the article stated, music has worked as a music therapy for those with autism and I can associate this with how I’ve noticed throughout my life that music has always been a very calming source for my cousin with autism.

  10. This whole interview captured my interest from start to finish. I loved the questions and the answers really just covered everything I wanted to know. Nicely done! I would like to know if music psychology is something that a lot of people would be interested in and how would one go into that filed of study?

  11. This article is definitely intriguing considering that all of us in some part of our life have ended up relating a major event with a special song. Music for some of us is like a trigger, it brings back memories and emotions buried deep inside us.

    To know music has psychological and therapeutic implications is also something worth noting. Although this field is rather new and the effect of music therapy on people and their life styles has not been clearly established but, we can agree a good song has never failed to soothe the aching heart.

  12. I greatly enjoyed reading this.
    I have a degree in Musicology in classes we talked a lot about how music has influenced whole cultures and socializing for centuries. This is why I was wondering if music always had this effect on people. A couple of centuries ago, in west european countries at least, it was highly functionized (for royal court and church only) except for a couple songs the people used to sing at home. I guess what I am asking is a “what was there first the chicken or the egg” question: does music influence us or do we just connect music to memories and feelings and therefore feel different wen we listen to it? Or is there truth to both?

  13. Save from a few grammatical errors, the introduction to this article is stimulating and properly begins the subject at hand and introduces Dr. Williams in an acceptable fashion. However, it is somewhat disappointing that the first few questions you asked were not in-depth enough to elicit longer responses and tangents from Dr. Williams. There are issues with all of the images you inserted into the article, and they are unviewable to readers due to a hotlink prevention feature from the website you found them on. Despite this, it was satisfying to see you refer to prior works of Dr. Williams and to prove that you did your research before interviewing him. I feel like you would benefit from some proofreading, either by yourself a few days after you write your final draft or by a colleague. All in all, the topic is interesting and I appreciate the different points that Dr. Williams had, and that you featured them. Be wary of run-on sentences and long headlines, keep things short and to the point!

    1. My apologies, the Dr. Williams I referenced was in reply to a separate article. My deepest condolences to the author and to Dr. Greenberg! Seems to be that I should have proof-read my own comment as well!

  14. This was great! Music really does have the ability to effect us in so many different ways on so many different levels. The content was really interesting to read.

    A few technical things though: The first paragraph was a little clunky to read, as well as the last one. They could both use some rewording to make it flow a little bit better and read more clearly. Other than that, I really enjoyed reading it. The interview questions were great, I’d like to know more about why our brains respond to music in these ways and how it helps us more.

  15. So if music can be used to heal emotional wounds, can it also be used to cause them? Also, if music can be used as a form of communication for people who can’t communicate well for whatever reason, does that mean that a structured language can be made out of it?

  16. I relate to this topic a lot. whenever i’m feeling any type of emotion i listen to music. I agree with on him on everything. i liked that the interviewee linked some sites. and if you listen to music when you’re in pain , is it possible that some music can bring you pain?

  17. As someone who fully intends to help conduct this type of research once I’ve finished my schooling, this interview was captivating. I’ve heard a lot about how music therapy and music psychology are fields of study that have been growing ever more recognized and respected in the last while and this only serves to further prove that. I think plenty of people take music for granted and don’t fully comprehend the profound effect it can have on a person, as was stated in the article: “many people don’t know how to use music to it’s full potential.” Hopefully as more interest is shown in this subject and more research is conducted, this potential will someday be realized. I would be curious to discover whether the effects of music therapy vary depending on whether or not the patient is a musician vs. a non-musician or whether that even matters. Clearly there is much more research to be done. However, in all honesty I find it exciting to think that there is so much more we can learn about the effect of music on the human mind and how it can be beneficial to our society. Hopefully in the future there will be more people like Dr. Greenberg who choose to delve into this fascinating subject of study.

  18. I have never heard about music psychology until this article and it makes so much sense that it would be a field of psychology! I have these moments many times where I will listen to a song and it will bring me back to a certain time or I will actually be triggered and start crying from a song because of a memory connected with it. It is also interesting how a song can evoke a certain time of emotional response from us and how sounds can do all of this and how it is so pleasurable. I know that when I am really sad, I will just listen to songs which I believe to be sad (which is interesting how a song can have a feeling) and I will cry and feel better from the music. I relate completely when Dr.Greenberg talks about how emotions can be evoked and how we are “hardwired” for music. This is like how mothers will play classical music while they are pregnant in hopes that their children will become geniuses. Music is very interesting and its affect on humans and so phenomenal.

  19. I think this is a very interesting topic. I have used music for healing since I was old enough to explore my own music taste. I do not agree that people who behave a certain way listen to certain types of music. I feel like you can make music mean anything you want it to mean. It’s all up to the personn and how they want to feel. Nice read.

  20. This is a very interesting topic. I do realize that sometimes the playlist on my music player is really reflected of what my current mood is. Although i really wonder if that also affect for listening to a foreign music; I do listen to some Japanese, Korean, and also French music that i don’t understand the lyrics at all; so is there any emotional or psychological connection that some people can enjoy the music that they hardly understand?

    1. I feel like the lyrics are only one part of a song that can make you feel different emotions. Think about the music that has no words that’s played during movies, and how influential it can be on your emotions and your take on the movie. Also think classical music, instrumentals, or any other music you’ve listened to that doesn’t have lyrics at all. I don’t think you have to understand the words to feel the emotion of the song!

  21. This was an interesting article into a topic that is not always widely known about. I would have liked to see a much deeper article about the topic. I would have liked to have seen much more examples. I know that depending on what I am doing I listen to different styles of music. At home or at work depending on what it is I am trying to accomplish or concentrate on. Over all good articles but would still like to see more details.

  22. I knew about the psychological healing power of music and music therapy, but I never heard of your music taste being linked to your personality and cognition. I’d consider myself an empathetic person and I have always liked music that reflects that. I’ve also heard that many people listen to music that reflects their emotions when they’re sad because it validates their feelings. They feel like they’re not alone. I look forward to reading more about music psychology as researchers make more discoveries!

  23. First of all, I must admit that I didn’t hear about the reasearch that is mentioned in the article before, but it seems really interesting, and from my point of view (empath) it is true that people who prefer empathizing tend to listen to emotional and soothing music. Music is really important part of our lives and it does have a big impact on us, even when we don’t realize it. Music should be closer to people, and what I mean by that? I mean that playing music instument shouldn’t only be learnd in musical schools or private classes, and it shouldn’t be reserved just for kids or teens. There should be something even for the old or middle aged people, because most of them didn’t have the money to pay for it when they were younger. That would be good because older people would be more involved in society. Not to forget, music is something that connects people, and maybe that could be a good way to fight stereotypes.

  24. I have always been a firm believer in the healing power of music, both playing and listening, and was happy to see research supporting that belief. Music is such a powerful thing that is accessible to the vast majority of the population, which makes it a perfect form of therapy. Nearly everyone has some kind of personal connection to music. After reading this article, I wonder what are the benefits of listening to music versus playing an instrument. Is one more effective than the other? Thank you for this extremely interesting article.

  25. Music can be a great help in any situation. Listening the propper music can heal. Listening happy music insad moments, or even sad music can make us cry and release some pain. I love the effect of music, both instrumental and not.

    I feel like instrumental music is better for calm down, for example classic music in the background can help to concentrate while studying. And music with vocals depends on the song itself, if is more for dance and enjoy, songs that make us sing along are the best for being happy and in good mood. In other hand, sometimes songs can remind us of bad moments, sad situation (while the song is sad or not, a happy song can bring bad memories) and it could be dangerous if the person is already depressed.

    Either way, music is so powerful that I dont know what i could do everyday without my favorites songs or the radio all the time in the background. Thanks for sharing the interview!

    And for the article itself, the pictures arent showing and I dont know if is just me or not, but it bothers me a bit, you should reupload the pictures and not use the direct link cause the original website doesnt allow it.

  26. This is the first time I heard about the biological impact of music. This entire interview was extremely informative and interesting. It’s obvious through your questions that you did research beforehand on Dr. Greenberg. His answers provided insightful answers that really got me thinking.

    I am interested in knowing what music therapy entails, such as how would a session be held? Other than that, this was a well written article! You provide direct links to Dr. Greenberg’s findings which is great for anyone looking for more information.

  27. As someone who is throughly drawn to the arts, I’ve always been someone who saw music as an outlet for people to express themselves and in turn use it as a tool for healing. This article has solidified alot of those theories for me. I knew about the biological connection for babies from inside the womb but I had no idea about the prolactin stuff. I witnessed a little of what music therapists do when I worked as a para for a summer camp for children in the autism spectrum and found it interesting how easy it was to get all of the kids, verbal or not, able bodied or not, to participate. I’m definitely interested in learning more about this and especially about the empathetic and systemic types of people depending on musical tastes.

  28. I can absolutely relate to this topic! One of my statements is that “their is a song for every emotion and every moment of Life”. As a person who really enjoys music, i believe that music therapy should be studied more in-depth. The study of the mind is endless and ways to cure the mind should expand as well; i believe music would be a great addition of ways to address mental illness. Though i this interview, i would love to hear more on the research that has been done as opposed to the research that has not.

  29. This is the first time I’ve heard about music therapy and it applications in clinical psychology. This article is not very technical, which makes it easily digestible and understandable to a wide variety of audiences. It tackles music from the standpoint of psychology, biology, spirituality, arts, and sociology. And since music tends to play a large role in the lives of people of all ages, cultures, aces, and genders, this topic is wildly relevant and relatable.
    Additionally, the article is very well written and can be easily followed by readers. Th interviewer seems knowledgeable and has a good understanding of Dr. Greenberg’s work. The questions flow from one to the next, as do the answers provided by Greenberg.

  30. The interviewee’s answers were not too deep, but were informative about the field and relevance of music psychology. It seems that while the field has been around to some extent for a while now, it hasn’t been given much attention, so it’ll be interesting to see if there’ll be future studies about the applications music could have in mental health applications or organizational psychology. Given the cultural importance, pervasiveness, and accessibility of music, the field does deserve greater consideration.


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