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Pause for Thought: Wonderful Music

The power of music

by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2013)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore how music affects us as individuals.

Preparation and materials

  • Select two pieces of music - one well-known and one less well-known - and have the means available to play them at the beginning of the assembly.
  • Select two other pieces of music that evoke opposite emotions, such as one that evokes fear and one that evokes calmness. Examples could include:

    - ‘Look behind you’ (evokes fear), available at: (2.04 minutes long)
    - ‘Beautiful relaxing music for stress relief’ (evokes calmness), available at: (over 3 hours long)
  • If this is to be a class assembly, prearrange for a few volunteers to come up and explain why certain pieces of music are important to them, what memories they trigger and how the music makes them feel.


  1. Play the two pieces of music that you have selected, one well-known and one less well-known.

    Ask the students whether they recognize either piece of music.

    Listen to a range of responses.

  2. Music, whether it is a well-known piece or not, accompanies many significant moments in our lives. It is a powerful trigger of emotional memories. Indeed, music can be so strongly associated with events that many people can tell the stories of their lives in terms of the music that they were listening to at the time.

    Optional: you may wish to summarize some moments in your life that are closely associated with certain pieces of music.

  3. Our brains process music through a complex set of interconnected pathways that involve various parts of the brain. In fact, the way in which our brains are wired dictates the kinds of music that we like or dislike. Our taste in music may be very different from that of our parents or our friends.
  4. Music can inspire, excite, frighten and influence us. It can make us feel elated or reduce us to tears. Music stimulates activity in the brain, which is what gives music its emotional impact.

  5. Explain that you are going to play two more pieces of music. Ask the students to think about how the music makes them feel.

    Play the two other pieces of music that you have selected that evoke opposite emotions. 

    As you can hear, and probably feel, music can have an impact on the whole person.

  6. This link between music and the emotions can help to explain why music is so good at conjuring up memories. The part of our brain that is called the prefrontal cortex responds to familiar pieces of music and links them with the autobiographical memories that are most relevant to us.

    Optional: if this is a class assembly, invite the prearranged volunteers to come up and talk about the pieces of music that mean something to them.

  7. Music can also trigger physical responses in humans. We may get shivers down our spine, we may feel the hairs on the back of our neck stand up, our pupils may widen and our heart rate may quicken. Music provokes a response in the brain and the whole body also reacts to it.

    So, next time we listen to a piece of music, let’s remember that we are listening with our whole body, not just our ears. Our brain is storing the music and the accompanying memory for another time.

Time for reflection

Encourage the students to listen quietly to some calm music before they return to lessons. Ask them to close their eyes, let themselves relax and enjoy the next few moments.

Play an excerpt from the YouTube video ‘Beautiful relaxing music for stress relief’ (over 3 hours long).


‘Beautiful relaxing music for stress relief’, available at: (over 3 hours long)

Publication date: February 2022   (Vol.24 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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