Music. It makes us smile; it excites us and makes us dance; it brings us to tears. A simple piece can bring back a memory in full relief; we actually feel we’re there. And it can change our mood within minutes – or instantaneously.
Just how does music affect our mood? And how can we use music and rhythms to experience a better, more fulfilling life?
Sound, Experience and Emotion
According to researchers, music affects our mood in a variety of ways. But at the base of the phenomenon is rhythm and tone.
When we listen to a rhythm, our heart actually begins to synch with it. A slow heartbeat with a strong diastolic pressure tells our brain that something sad or depressing is occurring. Very fast beating is obviously related to excitement, whereas a dreamy rhythm with occasional upbeats can signify love or joy.
Tones are equally important as rhythm. A “major key” music piece signifies cheerful communication to our brain, while “minor key” pieces closely mirror the sighs and soft keenings of lamentation.
This all has a powerful effect on our brain, which directs our psyche to actually feel what’s being communicated to us.
Research and New Information
Of course, it’s not all that simple – and researchers all over the world are heavy on the trail of just how, and how much, music can create mood changes in the listener.
For instance, University of Missouri scientists found that under certain conditions, music can lift a listener’s general mood and increase happiness in just two weeks. In two studies authored by Yuna Ferguson, the effect was both self-directed and psychological: participants were told to try to feel happier while either listening to upbeat or neutral music. The upbeat tune listeners came out on top as far as overall impressions of happiness.
Such “music therapy” also revealed cheer in the process, not just the result. “Rather than focusing on how much happiness they’ve gained…people could focus more on enjoying their experience of the journey towards happiness and not get hung up on the destination,” Ferguson noted.
The paper, “Trying to Be Happier Really Can Work: Two Experimental Studies,” can be downloaded for a fee at The Journal of Positive Psychology.
Making Music Work For You … and Your Mood
So how can you take advantage of the mood-boosting benefits of music? Here are some practical tips:
Listen to upbeat music in the morning. Hormones related to that “get up and go” you feel in the morning begin to peak at around breakfast-time. Encourage this activity, along with your brain’s response to it, by putting on some light, easy and cheery music shortly after you awaken each morning.
Decrease your anxiety with soothing music and meditation. Anxiety and sadness/depression often go hand in hand, feeding on one another to lower your mood. Set aside time each day to meditate to soothing music, such as classical music, soft rock, MP3s of wind chimes, wind or soft tones.
Choose “directed tones.” Pioneers in the field of music, tones and mood are creating more and more pieces aimed at not only speaking to the brain, but actually directing it to achieve changes you’d like to feel. One example of such pieces is the science of binaural beats, or tones played in each ear individually. These produce rhythms that the brain automatically begins to follow, creating the mood you want.
Give yourself breaks between listening and not listening to music. It’s fun to have music on as a background all day, but in the initial stages of training your brain to respond happily, you want it to sense a definite distinction between your therapeutic tones time and downtime.
Don’t overdo it on fast music or hard rock. As fun as hard rock is, don’t listen to it non-stop. Eventually the quickened heart beat response will begin to produce a vague message of anxiety to your brain. Do keep listening to the tunes you love, but save them for when you really want to get up and dance.
Rhythm and tone can have a definite impact on your happiness – and on your life. Listen to the right set of tones and you can begin to feel the effects more quickly than you’d ever dreamed.
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