Of the numerous roles played by music in human society, two stand out as especially ancient and powerful: promotion of social cohesion and physical or emotional healing. The powers of music to improve mood, to treat certain illnesses, and to aid in driving out evil spirits is attested to in healing rituals in numerous traditional cultures (see chapters by Fachner and by Saarikallio, this volume). Music also plays a central role as a vehicle for social cohesion as manifested in rituals and social ceremonies, often also involving dance alongside music. The unique ability of music to entrain bodily movements and to induce motor and emotional synchronization among those participating in its making (Henry & Grahn, this volume) make it especially adept at confering feelings of unity, affiliation, and social bonding. In these contexts the emotional power of music seems to be highly combined with and dependent on social and cultural experiences and beliefs. Yet, even when music is detached from these contexts, becoming a seemingly abstract sonic object (most notably as Western classical instrumental music), it can induce intense feelings and pleasure, often accompanied by physiological changes. These too of course, are imbued with (very different) social and cultural beliefs. This wider perspective on music will accompany us as we describe the emerging findings regarding the brain pathways and underlying neurochemistry supporting some aspects of music’s ability to influence us so deeply.