What it's About

Music, an ability that distinguishes homo sapiens from all other species, can help shape the developing as well as the adult brain by activating and expanding parts of the brain that can also serve other purposes. We have learned  how these parts connect and strengthen with practice and study. Dr. Ellenberger addresses why we like certain kinds of music and why playing and listening can exercise the brain at all ages. Music can be a risk-free treatment of a range of human disease. This book and Blog argue that, especially when learned early, music can enable us to engage the full spectrum of human understanding necessary for individuals and societies to achieve their fullest human potential.

The author eating a sandwich in Yosemite


Thank God the void left by the sublime Oliver Sacks has finally been filled. –Maria Corley, Concert pianist from Juilliard

THE book I'm reading when I'm on tour. As a musician and a composer and a human being who has walked the planet for 67 years with some observation skills, I find the book to be very interesting. –Chris Brubeck

I got carried away. The words flow with a lot of charm and effortlessness. –Dan Stolper, Oboist, Past Editor, The International Double Reed

I think musicians and non-musicians alike will get a lot out of the information in its pages, but it’s also entertaining and very well written. –Nancy Bean, former Associate Concertmaster, Philadelphia Orchestra

. . . the most important book on music to appear in years. –John Poynter, professor of History and pianist

I devoured it with pleasure and admiration for the thorough, educated research into the effects of music on the brain. –Justiniano Campa, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurology

It’s clear he knows his stuff, and he makes the science of music understandable throughout this work. –Kirkus Reviews

Tremendously interesting and enjoyable. Dr. Ellenberger's ear, trained for the flute, obviously extends to the music of the English language as well. –Phil DeMuth, Psychologist, musician, investment advisor

Seldom do you find an author so competent in two fields and with the ability to integrate them in such a way that the reader is awestruck. This is a wonderful read. –Diane Ross, Professor Emerita, Cal State

A fascinating and personal account of the relationship between music and the brain ranging from the development and plasticity of the brain in children to music as an adjunct to treatments of dementia and Parkinson's disease. –Annette Jordan, NetGalley Reviews

This book raises many compelling ideas about music: its joys and its effects on mind and body, increasingly important as funding is cut as we see funding cut for music in schools, rise in dyslexia and hyperactivity among kids, and increases among baby boomers of diseases linked to aging. –Richard Arnold, Australian Radio

I actually quite enjoyed reading how learning music can be beneficial to a developing brain and how the benefits continue as the brain ages. –Melise Gerber, NetGalley Review

What a great book! I learned a lot about the relationship between music education and neuroscience. I also enjoyed the latter, more biographical section. A must read for musicians and non-musicians! –Johanna Byloff, NetGalley Review

Buy the Paperback or an electronic edition

Table of Contents

It’s clear he knows his stuff, and he makes the science of music understandable. –Kirkus Reviews


Introduction to the Book

Part One: Music in the Brain

1.  Why There is Music?  

2.  Why We Like Certain Music, Or None at All   

3.  Can Learning Music Make Us Smarter?   

4.  Can Music Heal?  

5.  Music vs. Alzheimer’s Can Music Delay Dementia?  

6.  Music and Dance vs. Parkinson’s  

7.  The Flute and The Stethoscope   

8.  Usher Me Out With Music  

9.  Treasure Your Hearing You Will Never Regain What You Lose  

10.  What's Your Temperament?  

11.  Musicians With Dystonia When Practice Makes Imperfect

12.  What's the Matter With Classical Music?  

13.  Disdain for Classical Music   

14.  Love: A Neuromusical Rhapsody

15.  Sex and Classical Music Better Marketing Through Chemistry    

16. "Purple Brain" (2016)

Part Two: Reflections on a Musical Life

17.  A Model for Arts Education  

18.  There’s No Place Like Mt. Gretna 

19.  Is There a Doctor in The House? 

20.  Old Goats Playing the Flute    

21.  Russian Festival (Gretna Music, 2014)  A Weird Slice of Music History   

22.  The Village Bach Festival 

23.  The Audubon String Quartet  

24.  A (Funny) Polymath  

25.  Thomas Jefferson & Music   

26.  He Commandeered A Villa But Not Just Any Villa  

27.  The Rubato Queen of Shaker Heights

28. My Illustrious Career as a Non-Pianist

Paperback or Electronic editions on Amazon

About The Author



  • I have taught, researched, and learned at the University of Rochester, Yale Medical School, University of Virginia, US Army Hospital, Ft Ord, CA, Washington University, Penn State, Case Western Reserve, Lebanon Magnetic Imaging, American Neurological Association, American Academy of Neurology. I have contributed articles to The New England Journal of Medicine, Brain, Annals of Neurology, Archives of Ophthalmology, and others, and chapters in books, including Neuroimaging, a Companion to Adams' and Victor's Principles of Neurology and Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 2016.
  • Certified in neuroimaging by the United Council of Neurologic Subspecialties and in Neurology by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.



  • Dr. Ellenberger studied music at the Interlochen Center for the Arts and the Eastman School of music. He played music with the Yale Collegium Musicum and Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the New Haven Symphony and the Harrisburg Symphony, the Village Bach Festival, the Boulder Bach Festival, the Festival Internacional de Musica en Toledo and others. In 1976 he started Music at Gretna (now Gretna Music). Over 44 years Gretna Music has hosted 1500 classical and jazz musicians including Grammy winners, MacArthur Fellows, concertmasters, Met Opera singers, and competition winners. Elizabethtown College awarded him a Doctorate in Music honoris causa. This book and  Blog synthesize what he learned along the way. 

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PO BOX 70, Mount Gretna, PA 17064, US