How and Why Does Music Get Us Through So Much?


I was having a really bad day last week and I couldn’t seem to get out of my funk. I tried eating something yum, I tried distracting myself with work and then after work, a drink,  but nothing seemed to work.

Then, by chance, I popped on a playlist I’d been meaning to listen to. A song I’d never heard of came on and it was as though I’d been transported to a different landscape. Until that moment, I’d actually forgotten how much music can help when you’re feeling yuck.

Everyone has that certain style of music they’re drawn to. It doesn’t have to be a specific genre or artist, it can be a feeling. For me, it’s a combination of jazz, soul, funk, R’n’B and just about anything with a smooth, calming and slightly sexy sound.

I grew up listening to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Norah Jones, Toto, Hot Chocolate and Sade, so I guess it makes sense that I feel the most like myself when I’m listening to silky smooth tunes. But it’s more than that.

With the right song, I’m transported to a land of my own. It’s usually a cityscape at night time, with twinkling lights and barely a soul in sight. It’s the middle of winter and the pavement is still damp from the day’s rain, the moon reflects in the puddles and although everything looks navy blue, there’s a warmth in the air that’s comforting.

The music I love always takes me to that place, and in that moment, I feel calm and empowered, regardless of my previous mood.

“Music has been shown to release hormones that lift our mood. Research also shows that group singing releases oxytocins, chemicals that manage anxiety and stress,” Dr Anna Mlynek-Kalman, director of Music Works Magic, tells The Latch.

“Music is the one activity that has been shown to stimulate the entire brain. As such, when we find music that we love it creates positive responses in areas of the brain that affect our physical state – it can change our heart rate, it can give us goosebumps, it can resonate through us.”

I guess it really does feel like a feeling. When you immerse yourself in a song or even a sound, it somehow feels like it becomes a part of you; like a thought you may have to yourself or your heartbeat.

Sometimes, when I feel claustrophobic and anxious on public transport (please tell me I’m not alone on that one), I listen to music. It’s just about the only thing that can distract me from what’s going on around me. Similarly to reading a good book, music is a form of escapism I think we often take for granted.

“Every cell, bone, body and tissue has its own vibration and through resonance, sound can change disharmonious frequencies back to the optimal vibrations,” explained Charlotte  Charlotte Fraser, an integral sound healing practitioner at White Swan Sound and Yoga.

“Sound transmutes thought and can have the ability to be transformative and healing.”

A study by researchers at McGill University in Canada showed that dopamine was released in the striatum (part of the brain) during peak moments of emotional arousal when listening to music.

This basically means that when we feel ourselves experience something pleasurable while listening to music, whether that be a feeling, a thought or even a memory, our brain produces dopamine, which makes us feel good.

It was the first study that actually connected neural brain activity with music.

Then, of course, there’s the power of memory. Memory evokes emotion through all of the five senses. It’s like when you smell a familiar perfume and it takes you back to a person or feeling, in no particular order. There are certain things your brain holds onto.

And music is no different. Have you ever played a song on repeat during a specific time in your life and then when you hear it again later, it reminds you exactly how you were feeling? It’s a pretty amazing thing.

“We all have memories and experiences attached to particular sounds, and sometimes these can be triggered by those sounds. For example, a really positive memory association with a sound draws on a positive memory and feeling in the body,” Charlotte explains.

“This same sound may evoke a different response from someone else.  Sometimes it can depend on our genetic makeup in how we hear those sounds, other times our individual experiences, past or present. Sometimes, it’s as simple as whatever is going on in our life that day which will shape our responses to sound.”

I think that’s my cue to go and listen to Taylor Swift‘s Fearless album and reminisce in the pain of the teenage crush.

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