I've read that the body attempts to match its heart-rate with the tempo of music being listened to.

Rhythmic Entrainment: 'This refers to a process whereby an emotion is evoked by a piece of music because a powerful, external rhythm in the music influences some internal bodily rhythm of the listener (e.g. heart rate), such that the latter rhythm adjusts toward and eventually 'locks in' to a common periodicity. The adjusted heart rate can then spread to other components of emotion such as feeling, through proprioceptive feedback. This may produce an increased level of arousal in the listener.'

Is this true?

  • $\begingroup$ Do you still have the original reference? I'm quite dubious of the claim, but it would be good to see the context. $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2013 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ This question appears to be off-topic because it is citing an unsubstantiated claim. It could perhaps be reworded. There is research on the effects of music tempo on heart rate, but not the heart rate matching the tempo. $\endgroup$
    – user10932
    Oct 6, 2013 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ I don't remember where I originally got that idea. Probably a website talking about the effect of music on emotion. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$
    – NiteCyper
    Oct 7, 2013 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ @NiteCyper I have edited your question, please advise if you are happy with this $\endgroup$
    – user10932
    Oct 7, 2013 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ Seems fine, thanks. Sorry about the lack of detail. I think that I started the question when I was tired, because I figure that it's better to pose it sooner rather than later so that the ball can get rolling while I rest, and secondly, I would hesitate to include such information that essentially answers my question for me. $\endgroup$
    – NiteCyper
    Oct 11, 2013 at 2:36

1 Answer 1


Music and the autonomic nervous system:

There have been studies linking the effects of music on well being, by affecting heart rate and blood vessel dilation.

There has been much research linking the effects of music on Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which affects heart rate. The emotional nature of the music, be it restful or stressful, is linked with changes in the ANS.

Music emphasis and rhythmic phrases are tracked consistently by physiological variables. Autonomic responses are synchronized with music, which might therefore convey emotions through autonomic arousal during crescendos or rhythmic phrases. (1)

Effects of music on brain function:

It has been demonstrated that music can affect brain function through increased arousal or relaxation, depending on the tempo.

Music induces an arousal effect, predominantly related to the tempo. Slow or meditative music can induce a relaxing effect; relaxation is particularly evident during a pause. Music, especially in trained subjects, may first concentrate attention during faster rhythms, then induce relaxation during pauses or slower rhythms. (2)

Effects of music on the heart

Music tempo or style also produces responses to heart rate and blood flow; relaxing or pleasant music producing results equivalent to studies showing the positive effects of laughter on the ANS.

Music, selected by study participants because it made them feel good and brought them a sense of joy, caused tissue in the inner lining of blood vessels to dilate (or expand) in order to increase blood flow. This healthy response matches what the same researchers found in a 2005 study of laughter. On the other hand, when study volunteers listened to music they perceived as stressful, their blood vessels narrowed, producing a potentially unhealthy response that reduces blood flow. (3)

Rhythmic entrainment and heartrate:

Human beings are naturally disposed toward rhythmic entrainment. (4)

There has been some research suggesting that the body will synchronise with musical rhythm. I say this with a disclaimer that this would need to be music played with a regular tempo over a prolonged period, as for the heart beat to synchronise within a mathematical relationship with the music tempo, this would require stability and an absence of other external distraction for the body to achieve this state. Or better put, listening to a variety of music styles, with varying tempos, will affect the ANS, but will not create such a rhythmic coordination between the music and the ANS.

• Entrainment is the process through which periodic events, i.e. oscillators, become coordinated through interaction. When oscillators come regularly into phase or of beginning their cycles together, way say that they have synchronized.
• Entrainment in music has been suggested by Juslin et al. (2010) as an emotion mechanism where the music causes an increase in arousal “because the powerful, external rhythm of the music interacts with an internal body rhythm of the listener *…+, such that the latter rhythm adjusts towards and eventually ‘locks in’ to a common periodicity.” The adjusted body rhythm then spreads through proprioceptive feedback to the subcomponents of emotion such as cognitive, neurophysiological, motivational, expressive, and subjective feelings components. (5)


  • (1) Dynamic Interactions Between Musical, Cardiovascular, and Cerebral Rhythms in Humans
    Luciano Bernardi, et al
    doi: 10.1161/​CIRCULATIONAHA.108.806174

  • (2) Cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory changes induced by different types of music in musicians and non‐musicians: the importance of silence
    L Bernardi, C Porta, and P Sleight
    doi: 10.1136/hrt.2005.064600

  • (3) Music & Cardiovascular System
    University of Maryland Medical Center

  • (4) The ecology of entrainment: Foundations of coordinated rhythmic movement
    Jessica Phillips-Silver, C. Athena Aktipis, and Gregory A. Bryant
    doi: 10.1525/mp.2010.28.1.3

  • (5) Rhythm, entrainment and musical emotions
    Carolina Labbé & Didier Grandjean
    Neuroscience of Emotion and Affective Dynamics (NEAD)
    Department of Psychology
    University of Geneva

  • Answers to Sensory Challenges, edited by Kathleen Morris. MS CCC/SLP. 2010.(Originally published in SI Focus Magazine, Fall 2008) Article by Jeff Strong


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