By Melba M. Black, PhD
Have you ever noticed how music affects your mood? Chances are that you use music to either get you psyched up before going into a situation when you need some extra energy or to calm your nerves and your mind. There is now supporting evidence that using music for self-enhancement, stress management, depression, anxiety, and even raising your IQ does work!
In her book Tune Your Brain, Elizabeth Miles, who is an ethnomusicologist, states that the factors that determine a selection of music and its psychological effects include speed, volume, rhythm, instrumentation, timbre, arrangement, form, harmonic and melodic structure, and pitch. Loud and fast music stimulates you, and slow, soft sounds are soothing. Studies show that everything from your blood pressure to your hormonal secretions to your emotions and mood is affected by our music preferences.
Music’s impact on your brain and body starts with the physiological process of hearing. The ear is the first sensory organ that develops in the womb so sound is the first source of information about the world. Music’s effect on the limbic brain (aka the reptilian brain, the portion that deals with emotions, memories, and arousal or stimulation) is part of why certain pieces can make you happy or sad. Researchers have identified that the music you listen to actually determines the arrangement of neural networks in your brain! In addition, the electrical energy generated by firing neurons creates brain waves also known as brain states: alpha, beta, theta, and delta frequencies.
Alpha brain states foster relaxation and make the brain receptive to new information. Beta is best for attentive mental activity. Theta waves help with stress, meditation, and creativity. Slow Delta waves support deep sleep and rejuvenation.
Here are some long-term benefits of the mindful use of music:
- More energy
- Enhanced cognition
- Increased tolerance for stress and pressure
- Better health
- Ability to adapt to circumstances and rise to challenges
- Enhanced creativity
- Greater self-awareness, self-confidence, and feeling of personal control
Most studies show that you are deeply affected by the music you like. If you don’t like the sound, its effect will be minimal, and you are unlikely to incorporate the music into your lifestyle.
Here is a quick exercise for you to test how music affects your mood:
- Identify your current mood.
- Select a piece of music.
- Listen to your selection at least three to five minutes.
- Rate your mood from one to five, with one being “mood not affected at all” and five being “mood improved greatly.”
- Notice any physical sensations: i.e., slower breathing, lower heart rate, calmer mind, or feeling more energized, etc. The goal is to use the music to shift your mood to a better-feeling place.
Try this exercise with all different genres of music to create a playlist for easy access when you need to relax, focus, heal, sleep, create, or just have fun! Music’s impact on your life is compelling when you begin to recognize what type resonates with your body, mind, and mood.