Take a minute to close your eyes, breathe deeply and imagine a few bars of your favourite song. How does it make you feel? What memories is it attached to? What physical sensations and what kind of energy does it create in your body? What does it motivate you to do?
Now ask yourself the same questions while thinking about music you really don’t like …
Even imagining music illustrates the significant effect it has on our mind and body.
Music in Society
Music is also used to influence society; it brings people together under common goals and ideas, and for some is central in their identity formation and sense of cultural belonging.
It is used in spiritual practice to enhance the experience in every religion; and in every movie it communicates how we should be feeling, for example building suspense or helping us empathise.
We get the urge to listen to music because we feel like hearing something that suits the mood of the situation. In a sense, we pick music as architects of our emotional environment.
There is substantial scientific support for the power of music and how it affects our emotions, performance, health and group behaviour. It is an integral part of advertising and our built environment; so much that we are so saturated with music in our daily lives we may take for granted the power it can have if used strategically to improve our quality of life.
Below I have outlined just some of the ways music can be utilised more effectively to improve our lives. These applications have been shown to be effective in scientific research and also through anecdotal evidence (did you know, for example, that Michael Phelps – the most decorated Olympian – listens to music before races?).
Seven Powers of Music
1. Emotion Regulation
Music can be used to improve our ability to notice, label, change, process or accept our emotional experience. This can be useful in setting a new mood if we are not “feeling it” or to process what we are feeling, if ignoring it is not the right choice.
Whether it is to pump up or to relax, feel happy or angry, music is one of the most potent forms of emotion regulation on the planet, comparable to some chemical agents. At a primal level the beat of a drum will attract our heartbeat and breathing to match it, and at a modern level the lyrics of a song may convey a deep meaningful message that strikes several emotional chords.
There are three channels we can use to improve or amplify the effect music has on our emotions:
- Visual channel (tune into visual imagery when listening to music);
- Physical channel (tune into bodily signals/sensations when listening);
- Lyrical channel (tune into words and meaning, and how they make you feel).
2. Expression & Communication
Music therapy utilises music to improve communication between therapist and client when it is too hard to put things into words. Through either making music or listening to music, the individual is able to express and communicate what they have been dwelling on, in ways that words alone can not afford. The individual can take things that have been bottled up or pushed down, and let them go through music, both writing and listening. This is an important part of healing when we are experiencing emotional suffering.
3. Sport & Exercise
Music can enhance our performance and motivation in sport and exercise. The effects on endurance and performance are surprising. Many athletes and trainers can attest to the value of music before, during and after sport and exercise activities.
At the simplest level, music enhances the enjoyment of exercise and at the more technical level when music is synchronised to exercise pace, our abilities are enhanced up to 15%, including our efficiency of oxygen use. Music is used to dissociate from pain and fatigue, and to increase or decrease arousal, depending on what the sporting task requires.
Sports people also use music to zone out of what is going on around them before competing, to improve focus and to regulate their arousal to achieve success.
4. Improve Productivity & Brain Functioning
Known as the Mozart effect, music can improve concentration, memory, motivation, creativity, cognitive functioning and performance. We can sit down to some types of music and they have a calming contemplative focussing effect. Everyone is different and genre depends on personal choice, but generally classical and relaxing music is associated with improved mental functioning.
When we are in a positive mood we tend to perform better at skills and challenges – and music can do wonders to improve our mood. This is especially true in cases where anxiety is resulting in avoidance and procrastination, and work issues. Music in the work space can calm the nerves and make it easier to approach important tasks.
5. Enhance Activities & Celebrate Life
Whether it is while doing the dishes, taking a long drive, enjoying time outside, hitting the exercise bike or eating a healthy meal, music can add to any context, to improve our experience and mood.
When we are down and out and need to remember that life isn’t that bad, music can lift us up and make us see the silver lining.
At the other side of the spectrum, at times when life is to be celebrated, music can get the party started!
6. Personal Development & Creative Outlet
When we feel we are stuck in life, or have sacrificed our out of work/family time and no longer have personal pursuits and passions, both listening and learning to play music can give us space for growth and personal development. Music is also a great creative outlet.
Both of these human needs are important to achieve a well-balanced lifestyle. Fine-tuning your music collection or picking up a guitar for the first time in years, can be a challenging and gratifying way to revive growth and creativity in your world.
7. Identity Formation & Social Relatedness
Music plays a role in identity formation and social identification in adolescence.
If you think back to when you were between the ages of 12-18, think of the first albums and bands and genres you listened to and how they affected your clothing, speech, hair, etc. Music taste gives us a forum and community to identify with all over the world. This is also a basic human need, to connect and feel we are part of something bigger.
When we feel alone or isolated, our music can connect us with friends, family or a lover. When we are not sure who we are or what we stand for, talented artists can speak to us for hours about the pain and joy in life and help us connect with the human condition and our common motivations. We can actively explore our identity and social role through the world of music.
If you want to learn more about harnessing the power of music in your life – from how to compile music strategically to improve emotion regulation, to how to reflect and record your music activities to improve your process, I welcome you to book an appointment with me.
Author: Abra Garfield, BPsych, MPsych (sport & exercise), MAPS; Medicare ATAPS provider.
Abra Garfield is an endorsed Sport and Performance Psychologist, with a passion for helping others to achieve optimal performance whether on the sports field, in the classroom, home or office. By drawing on a range of therapeutic techniques including Mindfulness, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Motivational Interviewing, Abra helps many people with goal setting, motivation, and overcoming anxiety.
Abra is the Principal Sport Psychologist and founder of Summit Performance Psychology. Visit the Summit Performance Psychology website to learn more or like us on Facebook to receive Summit Performance Psychology Articles and event updates.
Psychologist Abra Garfield has moved.
Find his details on his website: Summit Sport & Performance Psychology.