Music offers a direct channel to human emotions, and this connection can be surprisingly useful in changing mood, attitude, and lifestyles for the better. Many people use music to relax after a stressful work or school day, and educators all over the world have opened the doors of their classrooms to its ability to promote an atmosphere of focused calm.
Here are seven ways that the power of music can aid human mood and performance:
1. Music helps relieve depression, stress, and emotional pain.
When psychologists use music therapy with their patients, they concentrate on the ways in which it can facilitate feelings of comfort and relief from stress and trauma. People report feeling better able to self-regulate their emotional states and becoming more aware of their own emotions, as a benefit of listening to music.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, therapeutic programs anchored in music can help improve a person’s resiliency in the face of stress. That’s because music can trigger the release of body chemicals that act as natural stress reducers. One study reported that listening to music was as relaxing for the test subjects as having a massage.
Older adults exposed to music have shown themselves to become less depressed and to experience increases in self-esteem. For children, particularly those who have undergone trauma or who live with disabilities, the mathematically ordered rhythms of music can produce a sense of increased personal security.
Music genres often make a big difference. Research shows that loud, discordant music can make symptoms of depression even worse, whereas classical music and gentle nature sounds are uplifting.
2. It also decreases physical pain.
Music even helps alleviate symptoms of physical pain. Surgeons who allow their patients to listen to soothing music before and after their procedures tend to need to prescribe less pain medication. Some experts recommend that anyone about to undergo surgery should have the opportunity to enter a state of relaxation through music.
And for people coping with chronic conditions and diseases such as cancer, music has demonstrated its capacity to heighten feelings of life satisfaction. Physicians who administer palliative care specifically focus on alleviating pain, and understand the importance of music in promoting a sense of peace and wellbeing for their patients.
3. Music fosters a better overall mood and greater productivity.
Slow-paced classical music has gained particular renown among researchers for its ability to induce a pleasant state of relaxed attentiveness. Classical music can reduce a person’s pulse and heart rate, and can even reduce blood pressure levels.
When people lower their levels of stress through music, their productivity at work and at home can both increase. One particular study, for example, showed that overworked students in a nursing program experienced less intense feelings of burnout after listening to music.
4. “Sad” and “happy” music both have their place.
One recent survey of Finnish and British subjects showed that, for many people, even music with a sorrowful tone can increase positive feelings and foster a sense of wellbeing. Researchers found that many people preferred to listen to sadder music after an emotionally significant loss. For some, this experience was similar to talking with an empathetic and insightful friend who is a good listener.
Not surprisingly, one 2013 study found that joyous, upbeat music acts to elevate a person’s mood. Research subjects who listened to “happy” music actually became happier after a period of two weeks.
General happiness offers positive effects that reach far beyond mood. Thanks to the mind-body connection, the greater an individual’s sense of happiness, the more likely he or she is to be healthier, earn a higher income, and build more satisfying personal relationships.
5. Music aids meditation and sleep.
For people who meditate, music acts as an anchor to help prevent distracting thoughts. “New age” music and recordings of sounds taken from nature, like rushing water or birdsong, have shown themselves especially suited for this purpose.
People also tend to experience more restful sleep when they listen to classical music, as researchers have found when studying college students who suffer from insomnia.
6. Catchy tunes fuel workouts and sports fitness.
One study found that adult male subjects who listened to fast-paced music during sessions on an exercise bike performed better and worked out harder. Runners and sports enthusiasts in general have long used upbeat music to improve their motivation and endurance. People even tend to better recoup their physical and mental energies post-workout when they listen to positive music.
And when the stakes are high, people listening to music can increase their winning performance. Basketball players previously identified as becoming less effective under pressure gained in their ability to make crucial shots after listening to music with a positive mood.
7. Students study better with music
Music with slower-paced beats, such as that of Baroque composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, has even been found to alter brainwave patterns, resulting in a state of relaxed alertness.
Students can use music to increase their ability to retain all types of information. For example, one group that listened to classical music during a professor’s lecture did better on a series of test questions about the material.
Based on the research of a wide range of experts, the musical styles most conducive to study and to the retention of information are classical, Baroque, and similar genres. Researchers advise students to select works by Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for example. Slow-paced lute or guitar music is also helpful for concentration, as are gentle piano compositions by composers such as Claude Debussy.