The seventeenth-century English dramatist William Congreve wrote, “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” Music is a distraction for the mind; we can dance to the rhythm, and it can change our mood and influence our behaviour. Statistics show on average, we listen to 32 hours per week of music.
I was having a clear-out of my old MP3 player the other day to make room for some new music I had purchased, and there were about 150 songs on it, spanning nearly eight years. My songs have so many special memories connected to them – people, places, and moments in my life. For example, my first boyfriend’s favorite song, my dad’s favorite song, the film soundtrack we played at my mother’s and my brothers’ funerals and the songs from the 80s and 90s we danced to when we went clubbing. Songs from adverts, TV, and films; songs I learned to play on the guitar and the piano.
Music stirs emotions – it’s a powerful stimulus for memory, and leads to more effective connections with distant memories. When you purchase songs online and save them on your computer, you can see the exact time and date you bought them, allowing you to think back to that time and remember what was going on in your life and what made you like that particular song.
There are so many musical genres, and the more sophisticated technology has become for creating, mixing and editing music, the more diverse the genres have become. Musical taste is a personal thing. We are influenced by our families and friends’ musical choices, the era in which we grew up and by TV, film, and social media. Musical choices are often also based on mood and situation.
There are many benefits to music – listening to music has been shown to activate every part of the brain. Notably, it lowers cortisol levels, and music therapy has been shown to help with anxiety, fatigue, and depression. This can in turn increase self-esteem and motivation. Music can also help you cope with pain by boosting endorphin levels and reducing muscle tension.
The new field of neuro-musicology has also found that our brains become more symmetrical when listening to and playing music, and they function more efficiently. Professional musicians have superior memory, auditory skills, and mental flexibility. They have a larger corpus callosum which is necessary to ensure communication between both sides of the brain. The corpus callosum is involved in more efficient learning and recalls both verbal and visual information.
Music is known to help reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels and increasing dopamine. We often listen to music to help us feel better – happy songs can make us feel more upbeat and energetic, while sad songs can be cathartic and an outlet for emotional distress. Music helps increase self-awareness and coping skills. There is also evidence now that music may be able to reduce seizure activity in children with epilepsy. The modulation of the musical input works as a stimulus that affects the emotional state of the person and hence the cerebral & limbic activity and cerebral rhythms. The therapeutic possibilities are currently being investigated for treating some mental and neurological disorders.
Music also increases emotional awareness: children who practice music regularly perform better academically and score higher on social-emotional assessments. This is due to the improvement in motor and cognitive function gained from music, which leads to greater emotional intelligence.
Personally, I find music helps me with writing and creativity. I think about the song and listen to the lyrics, which helps give me ideas for characters and stories. I often listen to relaxing mood music to unwind at the end of a busy day, and I like listening to rubbishy pop songs when I am doing my housework. There will be a song to accompany whatever mood I am in.
Now that I think of it, I really need to buy a new MP3 player with more storage space.