Whether it’s the nostalgia you experience listening to an 80’s tune or getting revved up by your customized ‘workout playlist’, music has a way of touching and impacting us unlike any other medium.
Spas utilize soothing music to create an atmosphere of relaxation and calm while the film industry employs music to amplify the drama, action, and emotion on screen. In fact, a whole field of science, psychoacoustics, is devoted to studying and analyzing just how (psychologically and physiologically) music affects us.
Hope Young, music therapist and founder of the Center for Music Therapy in Austin, Texas, notes, “Music is a human phenomenon; it is one of the things that defines and is unique to humanity.” Music therapy, or the application of music for non-musical outcomes, capitalizes on music’s innate capacity to, quite literally, resonate with us. Because we are, essentially, a mass of buzzing atoms, music, having its own unique frequency and vibration, affects us at the atomic level. Young adds, “Our very bodies are musical, without our heartbeat and a sense of timing and rhythm we aren’t alive.”
Because music is so prevalent, however, we often underestimate its inherent power. Yet music, being nonverbal, moves straight through the auditory cortex of the brain to the limbic system, which governs our emotions, and our basic metabolic responses including body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. Furthermore, a strong external beat can actually cause a shift in one of the body’s rhythms whether heart rate, brain waves, or breath causing the body to move out of it’s own resonant frequency to match the external sound. Scientists have also shown that music can activate the flow of stored memories and imaginations, enhancing recall and creativity.
So how can you incorporate the incredible healing potential of music into your daily life?
Young offers three suggestions.
- First, use music for exercise. “Music helps increase endurance and power and also causes ACT (adrenocorticotropic) stress hormones to plummet, helping you feel more relaxed.” Additionally, music with a strong rhythmic beat actually prepares muscles for movement.
- Second, use music to relax. She says, “Choose what is calming, has positive associations and makes you feel light.” She encourages clients to “Watch your body’s response. Does your breathing improve? Do your muscles relax?” Generally speaking, music with sustained tones, and minimal breaks and volume changes is most calming.
- Finally, use music to change your energy or mood. “Match your mood first,” she cautions, and then shift the tempo accordingly.
When composing the soundtrack for your life, remember that your individual response to the music is what counts most. If it’s making you feel agitated, distracted or depressed, says Young, “Know you have the power to change the music or turn it off.”