Music is a vibrational tool to change moods, with the great power it can have over mind, brain and emotions. When you listen to music you like, it can transform your daily routine into something magical, even spiritual. Music is much more powerful than language. It’s the “language of emotion,” and travels across cultures. It can provide solace, release, strong sensations, and more.
Scientists are still working to understand what’s happening in our brains when we listen to music, and figure out how it produces such potent effects on the psyche. Music affects many different areas of the brain, displayed in the image below.
In a trying to answer the question of whether we can translate music into physiological benefit, Daniel Levitin, a prominent psychologist specializing in the neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montreal along with his colleagues, published a meta-analysis of 400 studies in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, suggesting the answer is yes.
Music Can Make You Happy, or Sad
We likely all know the feeling of having our mood be uplifted or subdued by music: making us happy or sad. Our brains actually respond differently to “happy” and “sad” music.
A study from 2009 revealed that after hearing a short piece of music, participants were more likely to interpret a neutral expression as happy or sad, to match the tone of the music they heard. This also happened with other facial expressions, but was most notable for those that were close to neutral. That’s why ‘Mood management’ is the number one reason people love music.
Music Provides Motivation
Music also provides motivation! How? It elevates the mood before leaving, it passes the time while doing the washing up, it accompanies traveling, reading and surfing the web.
Something else that’s really interesting about how our emotions are affected by music is that
Returning to how emotions are affected by music, we have to understand that there are two kinds of emotions related to music: perceived emotions and felt emotions. This means that usually we can understand the emotions of a song without actually feeling them, which explains why some of us find listening to sad music enjoyable, rather than saddening. Unlike in real life situations, we don’t feel any real threat or intimidation when listening to music, so we can perceive the related emotions without truly feeling them — almost like vicarious emotions.
Music is Enjoyable, Why?
According to a study by Kawakami et al. (2013), sad music is enjoyable because it creates an interesting mix of emotions; some negative, some positive, and although we sense the negative emotions in the music, we don’t feel them strongly.
Music can provide deep, exciting, emotional experiences, especially while performing. It can distract the mind from unpleasant thoughts which can easily fill the silence. As little as 15 seconds of music can change the way you judge the emotions on other people’s faces as well.
Almost the same can be found in a study of couples who spent time getting to know each other, looking at each other’s top ten favorite songs actually provided somewhat reliable predictions as to the listener’s personality traits. The study used five personality traits for the test (the Big 5) : openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability.
Interestingly, some traits were more accurately predicted based on what each person love to listen. For example, openness to experience, extraversion, and emotional stability were the easiest to guess correctly. Conscientiousness, on the other hand, wasn’t connected to musical taste.
Music Motives Daydreaming
Because of its promotion of communication between different parts of the brain, music encourages imagination, sliding into old memories, exploring the past and potential futures.
Motor and Reasoning Skills?
Usually, we believe that getting to know how to play a musical instrument can be advantageous for kids, but it’s actually useful in more ways than we might expect. According to this study, children who had 3 years or more musical instrument training performed better than those who didn’t learn an instrument in auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills. They also tested better on vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills, which involve understanding and analyzing visual information, such as identifying relationships, similarities and differences between shapes and patterns. These two areas especially are quite removed from musical training as we imagine it, so it’s fascinating to see how learning to play an instrument can help kids develop such a wide variety of important capabilities.
Music Can Bring us Together
Depending on the fact that music is a social activity, making it together can help bring us closer each other.
According to (Eerola, 2013), 1000 Finnish pupils who participated in extended music classes found they reported higher satisfaction at school in almost every area, even those not related to the music classes themselves.
Explaining the results, lead researcher Päivi-Sisko Eerola, said:
“Singing in a choir and ensemble performance are popular activities at extended music classes. Other studies have established that people find it very satisfying to synchronize with one another. That increases affiliation within the group and may even make people like each other more than before.”
Music is a positive resource, and its use extends deep into human history. We can, and should, use it to boost our lives and our interactions with others.