Music for the recovering brain

My ability to listen to music has shifted, and I suspect some of you will identify. Loud rock is fatiguing and confusing, and stuff with lyrics is too distracting. Has your experience been similar? What do you listen to these days?

I've been finding the ambient and downtempo albums at Ektoplazm wonderful for relaxation. (The difference: ambient has no beat, downtempo has slow beats, though in reality they blur into each other). It's laid-back, spacey, dreamy and legally free. :)

(All their other genres are loud, fast and clubby, so be careful you stay in the right category or get someone else to prelisten).


48 Replies

  • Hi Ali's, I don't listen to music now, if the radio is on or I'm out that's about it.

    Unfortunately since my coma when my iPod was played to me on a loop I find listening to that music very emotional now, it's kind of spoils it for me.

    Perhaps I'll get back to it eventually.

    Janet x

  • Hi everyone, Jules here,

    I find 'most of todays music rubbish (in fact annoyingly so). And when older stuff is playing some fills me full of trepidation just listening to the intro because i know the song about to start. Other songs i am so very pleased to hear at first (like a memory coming back of an old forgotten friend) but depending on the tempo, i will either 'accidentally' break something or dance with the cat on my shoulders crying the emotion out.

    Whilst recuperating at home from my op in 2010/2011 I listened to Adele over and over, now if i put it on my husband knows to go out of the house for a while to give me space.

    Something that is odd is i an obsessed with the Walton's on morning TV. My brain totally 'puts it feet up with a cuppa'. Its like i am there. Love it. I get the same d=feeling when i lay in the swimming pool with my ears under the water. Total release.



  • I did write Lia but my iPad autocorrected it!

  • I rarely listen to music, I find it too distracting, tiring some genres are worse than others, I tend to listen for a very short duration.

    I really struggle with background noise, be that tv my wife is watching or music pubs/cafes/malls play.

  • Can't get any links on your music site Lia. But I often forget how music can transport me to a therapeutic place and temporarily blot out all/any of my woes !

    I'm sure it helps in lowering blood pressure and general tension.

    Off to listen to some Enya, as an accompaniment to my afternoon cuppa ! xx

  • Oh Cat, didn't the choir in Britain's got talent sing this ? The one that did the sway/ leany choreography ? x

  • I know who you mean but I don't think it was this............ not 100% sure ??

    They were fabulous though and your sway/leany comment really tickled me ! :D x

  • Ah yes, this one is lovely :) . There's a lot of soothing classical crossover that works for me. Laura Wright, Hayley Westenra, Sarah Brightman and so forth. Somehow male voices don't do it, though I do like Bryn Terfel.

    I don't know why the links aren't working for you. Sorry about that!


  • Don't worry Lia ; often just a issue with different systems. Have a good Sunday ; dull and warm here in NW. xx

  • For myself even mild stuff like Enya I find uncomftable the above songs I found jarring but I'm quite sound sensitive, I was pre, and it's got a lot worse.

    Interesting it is location dependant, worse if its background vs primary

  • night bird on the contrary if im feeling aggresive and wound up theres nothing like loud heavy music to gradually bring me to a state of relaxation.

    i normally like to listen to classical music

  • That was me in my teens before I got ill :) . I can still listen to the loud heavy stuff these days, but not for long and not when I'm working or tired. My brain just gets confused and says "what the hell is this?"

    Classical music is brilliant.

  • nightbird for me it eases my aggession and stops me becoming violent if im feeling really wound up

  • Hello Lia

    I found the frequency of the brain scan after my accident very comforting. I had the best two hour sleep after that scan. There is something about the repetitive sound, patterns and frequencies that seemed to make me feel better. I wondered what frequency this might be and started to look into different sounds and frequencies.

    I find that when it comes to sleeping, tunes at 528 hz for me are calming for some strange reason. You can find videos on you tube that play this music.

    I also find that like trance music more post head injury than before.

    Best wishes,


  • Thanks for that :) . I'm listening to something called Miracle Tone now. You're right, it is relaxing, although I'm not getting anything "special" from it.

    The French singer Charlotte Gainsbourg recorded an album inspired by the sounds of the MRI machine. She had a brain haemorrhage and surgery for it. The song IRM is about the scan and has authentic-sounding MRI sounds in it. (The French spell MRI backwards).

    As for trance, there's a very cool genre called psytrance I'm into. It's trance, plus soothing spacey sounds. If the Ektoplazm links I posted work for you, the other stuff on the site is psytrance. I didn't post it initially because I worried it would be too loud for some.


  • nightbird sorry that made me laugh........songs based on the sounds of the mri scanner...........all i hear is boom bang boom bang , which, although i was only young at the time, reminds me of lulus song " boom banga banga boom "

  • Thank you for the music suggestions. I found that during my recovery, I've really enjoyed guitar/blues music even more. I found the sounds of an electric guitar really enjoyable when learning to swim again.

    I blogged about music and swimming here if you are interested:

  • I like Santana! I have a friend who plays guitar - his version of Samba pa Ti is on YouTube somewhere. I'm thoroughly impressed. My musical abilities were developing before, but they were never *that* good.

    Nice blog, by the way. I haven't time to delve into it today (I've set today aside for working on my book). But you've chosen a very appealing template and beautiful pictures.


  • Thank you for your compliment about my blog. It is a free Wordpress template and easy to use.

    Writing a blog has been part of my recovery journey and my way to relearn to focus my attention. As it was taking too long to get a neurology appointment sorted, I started to look for ways to help my brain focus and develop my short attention span.

    In the beginning, even writing one post was a massive commitment and effort. My brain fog and headaches meant that it literally took hours to write a short piece.

    I challenged myself to write a post a day to build the habit of writing. What I learnt from having fractured my bones and learning to walk again is that having good habits helps with ones progress in the long term.

    Over time, I post less and less but it has massively helped with my ability to digest more information and write more fluidly.

    Writing a blog has helped me to connect the dots and been a bit like playing with Lego. Intially, my writing was jumbled up and I'd be rewriting and reordering my words over and over again.

    The photos on my blog are all taken by me from my travels. Sadly, I lost all my camera kit in my accident, broke my arm, clavicle and sustained nerve damage. So handling a camera can be a bit tricky at the best of times. I mainly take photos on my phone now.

    Like music , I think photography is a good way to train the brain, it can be very relaxing , expressive and help with focusing ones attention.

  • I also have brain fog (though not headaches). Posting on Facebook and writing my book has been a challenge. I don't think they've helped me improve, but they might have helped me stay stable. My handwriting is a nightmare, but it always was. :)

    I totally identify with the rewriting and reordering thing! My mind can't hold much information in one block, so my process for doing things is totally shambolic. It's amazing I get anything done, really.

  • hello

    I've also felt like I'd not had a proper night's sleep in the last five months prior to my MRI scan. Even now I feel as if I nap more than having any kind of restful deep sleep.

    It's interesting what you say about conflicting noises. Initially after my I accident, I found the conflicting noises of being in the city very overwhelming and somewhat disorientating.


  • Yeah, that happens to me. Sometimes I can handle the sounds and they energise me, but if I'm tired they confuse and unnerve me. What I can't do is ignore them. The ability to naturally ignore stuff seems to be lost.


  • Losing the ability to tune out and ignore is very tiring - that's me in a nutshell.

  • Hi Lia, tried to tap into yr ectoplazm music links, no luck. I will check it out on an external link. Music was central to my life prior to bi. From house/trance tracks to alternative. These days, I prefer to listen to soothing blend of soul, blues music. Chan Marshall (aka cat power) cd's are played these days. Interestingly, I discovered Chan after my bi. Like others, I avoid listening to the radio as the chatting/ads/ grates on me on everylvel. . Yes, Lia, we certainly identify with your observation that our music preferences do change post bi. As the saying goes.... out with old, in with the new. 😀 Claire xx

  • Soul and blues are lovely, and I do have some Cat Power albums. I discovered her through the V for Vendetta soundtrack. "Joan As Police Woman" is a similar artist.

    No idea why the links aren't working for you. Sorry about that!


  • No problem. Thanks for mentioning Joan as Police Woman. Yep,she is definitely another talented American blues artist. Claire

  • I'm with the majority on this. But then, I've grown up as a musician. I also studied, in some depth as part of my under-grad dissertation, the effects that music can have on the brain.

    Even before my concussion, I've always found different types of music have different effects on me. I'm the sort of person who walks past a busker and find I am naturally syncing up with his rhythm. When I drive places, I choose my music based on how stressful I expect the journey to be, the length of the journey, where I am going.......

    I will have to search for Charlotte Gainsbourg. It sounds a very interesting album. I had an MRI last week and found my musician brain subconsciously working the sounds of the scanner into its own form of music.

    There's so much variety of music out there, I'm sure you will find something.

  • That's an amazing subject. I did try listening to pre-illness albums to see if they'd kickstart my brain into a pre-illness state. No luck - but it wasn't exactly a serious investigation. I've read stuff (probably Oliver Sacks) about music reaching patients stuck in the depths of Alzheimer's who don't respond to anything else.

    I grew up as a musician too. Piano, cello and singing. I was influenced by music and its culture, and it was sad to see my abilities deteriorate. The chapters of my memoir all have song titles as their headings, and there'll be a linked playlist at the end :)

    The album's here. IRM is the second song, but there are subtle reflections throughout the album:


  • Music If I do which is not often it more dependant on the sound quality, volume and a few other factor it like someone drilling through my brain I can turn into the Incredible Hulk it not something I can easily discribe except the worst is when you have to endure someone playing it through thier phone or I can hear the hissing of poor quality headphone,I cannot even listen too long, there no music in the house I can't stand the noise of the radio in the car, is not switched on, in my other car I have actually ripped it out so no one else can turn it on the only thing I ever listened to and enjoyed was when my daughter did her piano exam it was the only time I heard her play it was beutiful she will not play for me unfortunately

    Perhaps I just never found the right sort of music 😬

  • Hi Lia,

    Such an interesting topic you've raised :) I have had a slightly different reaction to music since my bi. I'm the same as many others in the 'can't stand muzak in public places, for instance the music in supermarkets prevents me from remembering what I'm looking for -,or choosing what to buy. I'm unable to 'tune it out' as I could before. Music in restaurants has the same effort, I can no longer concentrate on conversation if the music is familiar - my brain wants to pay attention to it.

    My major change is do to with emotion. Pre bi I would (at the drop of a hat) be swamped by emotion, often crying , at certain songs. Songs from all genres had the ability to do this. Hymns at funerals were particularly diffucukt, if be fine until the musical introduction to a hymn began & then I couldn't read the words for the tears. Like wise in movies and a multitude of other places.

    Something has happened to me because I no longer feel any emotional connection to music . I can even listen to songs which were almost songs to be avoided pre bi because of theyr ability to 'set me off '. There is no reaction now when I hear music - I can appreciate the technical brilliance, intricacy of the writing, clever words etc, but it no longer touches me at all. It seems a bit sad rreally, but it's just anoter change you have to get used to in your differnt life after bi. It's not the end of the world when I think of all the terrible things others have to cope with - I consider myself lucky.

  • Hi Eleanor,

    I find I tend to cry more easily in reaction to certain songs these days. After reading this thread I allowed myself the ( occasional ) guilty luxury of a little weep to Athlete's 'Wires'. My son was nearly a month prem, born just before Christmas. No wires but low birth weight and couldn't keep his body temp so heavily clothed/capped under a plastic dome.The threat of him possibly having to go into the Special Care Unit was ever present in the first few days. Looking at him now, you would never know : ) x

  • What a wonderful track......never heard it before.......beautiful chord structure. I can understand how those lyrics might stir emotion. Sometimes in the past I've come across songs which might almost have been written about a personal situation. Talented people out there :)

  • Brilliant track Lia. I can hear the mri influence. I too had an mri following my brain haemorrhage and recall the sounds and rhythm soothed my foggy brain in the dark tunnel. Listening to this track now, is surreal for me. I do appreciate discovering artists/music that I can relate to these days. Thank you!

  • After my BI at 14 I found I started to listen to rap music and especially Eminem, who was popular at the time. There was something about his music, his ability to express anger and adversity through song that I found appealing. I went through a very tough few years and listening to him may have validated my own feelings of resentfulness. I didn't listen to anything remotely cheery and rap music was about as hateful as you could get, but it wasn't just hatefulness that appealed, there was something heroic about his music underscored by him having come from poverty, having been brought up by a mum with munchausen syndrome and conquered a music industry he shouldn't have just by the fact of being a "white-boy".

    But these days I don't listen to that kind of music, I don't even have as much interest in listening to music and I don't find I have particular favourite genres, it takes a lot more to move me as I've become somewhat less emotional and desensitised, although when I do find something that moves me I'll listen to it obsessively to the exclusion of everything else. I do find classical and jazz music appeals to my intellectual and emotional sensibilities, maybe having played the piano prior to my BI has somehow cemented it's appeal to me. But certainly playing music has a lot more emotional impact for me than simply listening to it, it's one of the few ways I have of accessing my emotions and finding deeper meaning.

    One other thing, music played at a tempo of 60Hz is supposedly very good for the mind because it mimics the heart rhythm and I've found it helped me to concentrate and inspire me when I was studying at university. A psychologist gave me the music it's supposed to induce a state of relaxed-awareness.

  • Wow what a fantastic thread.

    Music taste has changed considerably for me especially since my abi. Loved rock, rap, drum and bass and my country music but now its all country for me can't listed to anything loud anymore and background music kills me especially in a restaurant. I can't listed to soothing melodies for to long have to have some beats, loving the new album by Rick Astley though called 50, fantastic.

  • Hi NightBird, may I ask, how severe was your brain injury?

  • Mine is a weird case. I didn't hit my head or anything; it was vaccine damage. (That's why I've had no rehab and have been struggling to get anywhere. Nobody believed it was vaccine-linked, even though it came on a week after the booster MMR jab.) It was only when I started reading about brain injury that I realised that's exactly what I have. They shunted me off into psychology and asked me about childhood crap, which did not make me a happy bunny.

    So there's no official diagnosis. On the standard scale, mine is mild. But we all know their "mild" can be pretty bloody awful in real terms.

  • I can totally sympathise, I was in a car crash 3 months ago and suffered from a whiplash injury which (I believe) caused a mild concussion.

    To this day I haven't received an official diagnosis apart from doctors saying "you might have a concussion" or "your brain will have been shaken a bit" which isn't entirely helpful. I was told to expect a full recovery, which hasn't happened.

    I have been to four doctors who all believe my cognitive and psychological issues are because of stress or PTSD, but I honestly believe they are a result of mild traumatic brain injury.

    The most worrying symptom for me is my inability to enjoy music as well as I could prior to my injury. I was a composer and musician; music was literally and figuratively my life; how I saw and interpreted the world. I can only hope that these cognitive changes are not permanent and will improve in a few months, but at this point it's difficult to remain hopeful.

  • I studied music at A-level, and I was planning on writing and releasing an album. So I'm completely with you there. I've lost the ability to immerse myself, and also the ability to step back and consider the superstructure of the piece rather than just what's immediately going on. People don't get it at all, do they?

  • I did give Headway a call about my issues with music listening, and they said that the damage was minimal and unlikely to have had any effect on my brain, so I'm wondering now if it's psychological. Hopefully in both of our cases it is. The mind is a very powerful thing, and I think if you strongly believe that the musical part of your brain has been damaged somewhat then your mind will will itself to make that happen. Numerous experiments have shown that people can make themselves feel pain and illness just by thinking it. I hope that for the both of us, that this sensation of "musical numbness" will go away and that we will eventually make a full recovery.

  • Have you been referred to a neuropsychologist? I recently went to my GP about my symptoms and have been referred to one to confirm whether or not my issues with music listening are because of a brain injury or because of the stress resulting from my car accident. I'll just have to wait and see but I sincerely hope the latter is the case.

  • It's not psychological with me. In fact, I had a lot of awful sessions with psychologists which consisted of them saying things were psychological while I tried to prove they weren't. Going down that route again doesn't appeal. Even neuropsychology can slip that way, I have heard.

    I did try last week to get a neuropsychology appointment for cognitive testing (nothing to do with music, at least not specifically). But I was referred to the memory clinic instead. Fine by me - they're less likely to psychoanalyse me there. :)

    I wonder at Headway telling you for certain that it isn't physical. It seems uncomfortably close to what doctors say when they dismiss us. Whatever the reality, I hope you can find a solution.


  • The doctor who referred me to a neuropsychologist also told me that he believes the majority of my symptoms are psychological, but that my symptoms are very real and to get them checked out anyway. All of the doctors prior to him also said that my issues were "all in my head." My family all believe that I'm making things up or worrying about nothing, but if it were that simple and I could enjoy music again I would cheer up and not feel depressed about my situation.

    It is especially patronising when doctors don't believe what you are telling them and chalk it all up to anxiety or depression. Pretty much everyone thinks I'm being a hypochondriac, including the people that matter most to me. But my symptoms are real and disabling since I was a musician and composer. My degree was essentially my dream job before my injury; it depends on my ability to enjoy and appreciate music emotionally, and it was something I had been working towards for 6 years. Just before I started studying, a seeminly innocuous jolt to the head in a random and unexpected car crash (I didn't hit anything) has caused me a lot of pain and turmoil, and potentially and organically destroyed the natural talents I was born with. Devastated doesn't even begin to describe how I feel.

    Eventually I will know for sure what the problem is, and whether the concussion (which I was told was temporary) is actually permanent and causing me any long-term problems.

    I recently looked up a condition called "Audio Processing Disorder," which is a dysfunction of the primary auditory cortex in the brain. It can occur before birth, when the brain is still developing or it can be aquired, such as in the case of a traumatic brain injury.

    I visited a website, called "Hearing Health Matters" and found this:

    "Connection has been found linking concussions to many cognitive issues. The conclusions showed that there is a disruption in the neurological mechanisms that involve auditory processes."


    Additionally, I found an academic paper entitled "Self-Reported Symptoms of Central Auditory Processing Dysfunction Following Mild Traumatic Brain Injury." It pretty much confirms that mTBIs/concussions are more serious and long lasting than previously thought. The link can be found here:

    Hopefully we both find out exactly what is going on inside our brains.


  • Have you had neuropsychological/cognitive testing? Tests like the WAIS (similar to IQ testing). They found a huge discrepancy between my verbal and performance scores. "Normal" is no discrepancy, mine is 34 points. This can also mean ADD or autism spectrum, but those would have been present from birth.

    I just found a couple of articles which might help you. I certainly identified with them. They discuss the problems of being highly intelligent and getting a TBI. One particular issue is that you continue to score well on cognitive tests and present yourself as an articulate person, so nobody believes there's a problem. They compare you to the mean when they should be aiming much higher. (On the plus side, maybe high IQ makes recovery quicker when they've finally got their act together and admitted you have a problem).

    Looking up books on Amazon, there seems to be nothing on the subject. I'm very tempted to write one. "Normal Is Irrelevant: The High IQ Brain Injury Book".

  • I relate to these issues as well. Having a high IQ does not make the journey of recovery from a mild TBI/concussion any easier, apart from the fact that you're apparently less likely to have any severe after effects. But I think being intelligent and thus knowing your mind well enough to know that you're not quite as fast or as proficient as you were before your brain injury makes it really difficult to adjust to the effects of a concussion, especially in the short term. You go from having a really good memory to not being able to remember a spoken sentence 20 seconds after hearing it. Or from being especially metaphorical and descriptive when speaking or writing to finding it difficult to find words to describe things with. Having a high IQ means you know exactly where your new shortcomings and deficits are, however slight, almost to the point where you feel like a different person.

  • Absolutely. I'm definitely going to write that book. I have both of those problems (and more), and they drive me bonkers.

  • Hi Lisa, how long ago was your injury or illness?

    I had this experience for a while but it's becoming better, although I still can't stand loud banging beats!

    It just takes time and if soothing music suits you for now then just stay with that and introduce other types slowly. This is how I have done it. I have done 3 video blogs to help others after a SAH, if you get a chance please watch as I talk about noise and music:

  • I'll watch it when I can. Trying to finish writing my book right now. :)

    I'm suffering the fallout from an MMR booster vaccine ten years ago. I've had no treatment (apart from rubbish psychology), because they didn't believe it was a real injury. It's taken years of research to understand that this is post-concussive syndrome. The symptoms are the same. They're now referring me to the memory clinic - no idea if that will help.


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