With the help of today’s technology, we are fortunate enough to be able to listen to music whenever we like. We can listen to an Opera by Giacomo Puccini or to a Travis Scott song just by the click of a button, the options are endless. Music has become a constant companion, and we are the composers of our own personal soundtrack. Humans seem to always have had a special connection to music, for example, the oldest found instrument is a 60 000 years old neanderthal flute. In the first millennium music was seen as a mirror of the heavenly world and music as a mover of earthly passion. (Sparshott and Goeher 2001) When we engage with music we can feel the significance of it and feel our emotions being stirred. It is truly a human phenomenon, many philosophers and sociologists tried to understand.
Anthony Storr discusses in his book, Music, and Mind, that the primary function of music in societies is to bind people together. In every culture dancing and singing is celebrated and is rooted in old traditions. Ethnomusicologists were able to detect a trance state triggered by music in almost every culture but also other settings such as concerts. Trance can be defined as a state in which the emotional state is altered, and autonomic effects are triggered leading to altered states of consciousness. Music also seems to cause activity in certain brain structures that are known to regulate our emotions. Studies show that sad music can evoke or deepen feelings of sadness. At the same time music can be a source of happiness and inspiration brightening the mood of people. Pleasant music may calm our mood and reduce anger, while provoking music can lead to more negative feelings. So, what type of music we listen to clearly affects us.
This is maybe also why a lot of students like to listen to classical music while studying, since it seems to help them concentrate better. This is true to a certain extent. Classical music lowers the blood pressure other than music like jazz or pop, this may lead to lower levels of stress and anxiety. Listening to classical music may also improve some cognitive functions related to studying because the same areas of our brain are being used. Additionally, if someone genuinely enjoys listening to a certain type of music dopamine is released and can make study sessions, therefore, more rewarding. While classical music can be beneficial when working, popular music makes problem-solving and cognitive tasks more difficult. The vocals can be very disruptive when one is trying to concentrate. However, music with lyrics has a different strength and is very motivating. The brain tries to predict the pattern in music, is this pattern interrupted through unexpected changes dopamine is released and a strong emotional response is triggered in the listener. Humans are prone to move their bodies to external rhythmic stimuli, which is also caused by the great connection between the auditory and the motor system in the brain. So when we listen to music we almost automatically start moving to the beat. The beat also makes it easier for us to remember the lyrics of a song.
Music is perceived differently by everybody. That is also why we all have our own taste in music. However, we all share the feeling of nostalgia when it comes to music. We listen to a song and suddenly a memory pops up in our head. We connect the song to a feeling we felt in that moment and listening to this song again later in time brings forward these explicit memories. So not only is music a carrier of emotions but also of memories.
Research suggests that our taste in music says a lot about one's personality. Based on our ten favourite songs, researchers can make accurate judgments on how extroverted, creative and open-minded a person is. This makes sense since music is a way of expressing yourself.
Another immense part of music is of course the lyrics. Obviously, they are part of how the artists express their thoughts and feelings. Listeners may be able to see things from their perspective or relate to them. The words create another layer of emotional depth and meaning. Songwriters write about everything, from love to personal struggles or even social issues. Many artists like Childish Gambino or Little Simz make waves with their lyrics. For Example: “Every day gets hotter than the one before. Running out of water, it's about to go down…I really thought this world could change. But it seems like the same.” (Childish Gambino, Feels like summer) “ Fuck those who don’t believe. They will never wanna admit I’m the best here. From the mere fact that I’ve got ovaries. It’s a woman’s world, so to speak. Pussy, you sour. Never givin ‘credit where it's due ‘cause you don’t like pussy in power. Venom.” (Little Simz, Venom) They both created powerful messages, addressing different problems of today’s society. They make their listeners think about these issues and maybe even inspire them to act. Songs can be very powerful; some would even argue that they can be lifesaving.
Music is an incredibly complex thing, which leaves everybody in awe. It has the power to connect, inspire, transform and trigger emotions and memories. It is rooted in tradition and is part of human heritage. Music speaks differently to each person and plays an important role in everybody’s life. It quickly fades into the background or into white noise but we should try to consciously let ourselves hear the music.
by Elisa Klaffus