10 Songs That Will Give You Chills

These melodies are hand-picked to help you experience musical frisson.

Posted Feb 12, 2020

 Lauren Kashuk/Unsplash
Source: Lauren Kashuk/Unsplash

Chills, thrills, even skin orgasms — these are some of the words people use to describe a sensation experts call “frisson” (pronounced free-SAWN), from the French word for “shiver.” In English, frisson refers to the feeling you get when a piece of art resonates so deeply with you that it produces a physical response.

Frisson is usually experienced as a pleasurable tingle along the skin or up the spine. It coincides with a spike in activity in the brain's reward centers, which release the neurotransmitter dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical that also floods our brains when we enjoy food, sex, and recreational drugs.

Not everyone gets frisson, but the people who do share some intriguing characteristics. Their brains have an unusually large number of connections between the auditory cortex, which processes sound, and the regions responsible for emotion and reward. They also possess a common personality trait, Openness to Experience, which is associated with having an active imagination, an appreciation for nature, a high level of introspectiveness, and a lust for new adventures.

Even though frisson is tied to these specific neurological and personality traits, there’s no evidence that it can’t be enhanced if you only feel it mildly or developed if you haven’t yet felt it at all. Research on neuroplasticity has proven that the brain remains flexible and capable of change even in adulthood. (For more on frisson and what causes it, see "Have You Ever Had a 'Skin Orgasm'?")

Frisson can be brought on by a wide variety of stimuli, from reading a story to tasting a lemon, but most people associate the sensation with music. In a song, the features likeliest to set off frisson are the ones that defy our expectations, like crescendos, sudden harmonies, the entrance of a human voice, or evocative lyrics. The key to feeling frisson from music, studies have shown, is to immerse yourself in the sound, to appreciate what you’re hearing instead of just having it on in the background.

The 10 songs below represent a number of different musical genres but each one boasts frisson-inducing moments. Put on a pair of headphones, turn off other distractions, and listen to a few all the way through — you might just find yourself getting the chills. 

1. Sztoj pa moru (Што й па мору) by Laboratorium Pieśni

2. Sinnerman by Nina Simone

3. Kids by MGMT

4. Herr, unser Herrscher from Johannes-Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach

5. The Book of Soul by Ab-Soul

6. Passing Afternoon by Iron & Wine

7. مرحلة الصوت وبس - عصام سرحان يؤدّ موال أندلسي وأغنية’ لما بدامنك القبول’ from MBC’s The Voice

8. Run Boy Run by Woodkid

9. Northwest Passage by Stan Rogers 

10. Unsullied by Mao Buyi (不染 - 毛不易) played on guqin

If these particular songs didn't give you a thrill, don’t despair. The music that causes frisson depends on a person’s cultural background and individual taste, so try putting on some of your favourite tunes and tuning out the rest of the world to encourage your body to generate this extraordinary sensation.