Music, like other mediums, is a conduit of emotion. Singing or dancing along to a favorite song connects you to it, fully immerses you in the music and makes you a part of the experience. Where your attention is focused – on the melody, the beat, the lyrics, the tempo, the various instruments, etc. – differs by the song, as well as differing by each individual’s own preferences.
Music can certainly affect mood. Certain songs may encourage you to be in a good mood, a “happy place” or even a “sad place” depending on the mood of the song itself and your relationship to it. For example, listening to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” can lift me from a sad, depressed mood and inspire hope. For me, the upbeat tempo and the lyrics, “Don’t worry about a thing,/’Cause every little thing gonna be all right” provides positivity. For another person, the same song may not have the same effect.
Specific songs can bring you back emotionally to a prior time and place of hearing the song. Much like a time machine, the song transports you to a previous time. Songs can connect you to those in your life who are absent, due to distance or death. I personally cannot listen to a Bob Dylan song without thinking of my father, whose favorite musician was Bob Dylan. As my father passed away in November of 2010, this can function in a positive manner or a negative manner. Listening to Dylan music has acted as an agent in my grieving process, both allowing me release through crying and allowing me closeness to my father through memories of times we listened together.
As music and memory are so interconnected, you must be aware of songs that bring up negative memories and emotion for you. I try to refrain from listening to music that produces negative memories (and emotions) in myself, such as songs that my ex-boyfriend frequently listened to. Certainly there are songs that bring up positive memories and emotions as well. Music can inspire empowerment through lyrics that show triumph and overcoming. It can inspire connectiveness and the feeling that “I am not alone.” Songs can tell stories, beg you to think about issues and, reversely, invite you to get absorbed in the aesthetics.
In this way, music can be used as a distraction from current unpleasantness or pain. In times of stress or crisis, listening to music can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Calm, instrumental pieces can be used in relaxation techniques. There have been several studies that even suggest music can improve memory. One such study reports that, “[a]utobiographical recall in patients with dementia improves significantly when music is playing…” (Lancet).
I am, by no means, even close to an expert on music. But I do know this, when I’m having a terrible, stressful day, when nothing seems to be going “right” and I feel myself sinking into depression and anxiety, music helps. As I listen to Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up”, singing along to the lyrics, it doesn’t solve my problems or make everything better, but in that moment I can focus on the words in the song and I can believe that I’m going to, “turn out fine.” Sometimes a brief moment, such as this, allows me to alter my mood and offers positive thinking an entrance.
Only rainbows after rain
The sun will always come again and
It’s a circle, circling around again
It comes around again