Music really does have a marked effect on our emotions. The sound waves, melodies, and meanings behind songs affect our mood, state of mind, and how we feel physically. Music seems to trigger a response in the brain’s emotion and reward centers, releasing neurochemicals that induce pleasurable or therapeutic sensations. Different genres of music can generate different emotional experiences. Understanding this relationship allows us to harness music’s therapeutic power.
Uplifting, Positive Music
The brain associates major keys, melodies, rhythmic structures, and energetic tempos with a positive emotional state. For example, those songs in major keys instead of minor ones sound brighter and evoke a sense of happiness and optimism. Rhythmic beats, on the other hand, stimulate brain wave activity in the beta range, which is associated with alertness. Upbeat songs with funky rhythms often induce joy and energize us. Meaningful lyrics also play a role; inspirational songs help to remind us of our strengths during challenging times. Genres like soul, funk, reggae, and gospel have these uplifting musical qualities, which is why they continue to inspire people.
Cathartic, Emotional Music
Alternatively, music can offer release through expressing painful emotions. Sad songs in minor keys allow us to focus inward, slow down brain activity, and connect to underlying feelings of grief and loss. Crying along with a sad, soulful ballad actually helps to release stress hormones and endogenous opioids that calm the body. Screamo, emo, and aggressive rock gives teenagers an outlet for strong feelings they cannot fully articulate. Empathetic lyrics tell our own stories back to us, which is actually quite liberating. Rather than depressing, these genres ultimately uplift by offering emotional release.
Soothing, Meditative Music
For many, music is a tool for finding serenity in a turbulent world. New Age and modern classical feature environmental sounds, spiritual themes, and minimalist harmonies that help to induce a state of relaxation and open awareness associated with alpha brain waves. The repetition in ambient music synchronizes breathing as our minds drift into meditation. Flutes, bells, chanting and other non-lyrical elements transform music into a tranquil atmosphere for restoration. As musical accompaniment to activities like yoga, meditation, massage and tai chi, these genres deepen awareness of the present moment and are the essence of serenity.
Energizing, Motivational Music
Driving beats, aggressive tones, and intense lyrics provide the fight-type music that fuels our power to overcome. The heavy drum lines and screeching guitar of hardcore punk ignite fiery determination, while hip hop’s dense rhythms and competitive lyrics fuel ambition. Fast tempos raise heart rates, helping us to connect to our inner warrior. Sounding the call-to-action means driving rock, punk, rap, and EDM motivate people to overcome their limitations in sports, business, activism, and life in general. They rouse the risk-taking, persevering parts of us to help us achieve our goals.
Understanding music’s impact on emotions, therapists employ techniques like lyric analysis, songwriting, improvisation, and listening to evoke insights and healthy changes. Called sound bath therapy, this research-backed approach helps patients make social-emotional progress through meaningful musical engagement. For example, singing along with familiar songs in a supportive group environment has been shown to decrease anxiety and loneliness among seniors. The people at Maloca Sound say that custom playlists help trauma victims by associating beloved songs with safety and comfort. Music therapy provides a creative avenue to wellbeing.
Across eras and cultures, music remains an eternal healing force because of its ability to induce emotional states conducive to wellbeing. Knowing which genres conjure which feelings allows us to consciously work with music’s energy to uplift, console, chill out or motivate ourselves. We can transform songs into medicine for the soul. For this reason, music will always be essential medicine.