A Look At How Music Moves Us

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

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Have you ever been into a gym without music? Or a party without some form of sonic beats? It just doesn’t happen, and there’s a simple reason (well actually, plenty of reasons) why. Think about a room filled with silence, as compared to one that contains music; the latter is just so much more alive. Whether you’re chilling out on the beach, or raving with mates, music adds the mood.

We may be biased, as we’re dedicated audiophiles here, but we would go as far as to say that there aren’t any situations that aren’t enhanced by music – be it the soundtrack of your social occasions, the well-tuned companion for your workouts, or the aural aspect of your adventures.

Music for mood

You see, we don’t just listen to music – we feel it. You’ll have first-hand experience of this with songs that you can’t help but bust a move to; songs that make your heart smile from the second that you recognise what’s playing; and songs that make you well up with tears if you really stop to listen.

Music is more than just entertainment – it’s the regulating force of our moods. Music triggers the release of dopamine, which is basically our bodies’ pleasure centre. It’s the same thing that spikes when we fall in love (or eat a really good meal!), which provides some clues as to music’s magical powers.

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Because of its strong ties to our emotions, music can wake us up, calm us down, entertain us and motivate us. Changes in musical notes also play with our emotions. Whether you can recognise them or not, major chords sound joyful and uplifting (think ‘Wild Thing’ by the Troggs, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd or Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’), while minor chords (as those in Chris Issac’s ‘Wicked Game’ or ‘Come Together’ by The Beatles) are more subdued, sad or dreary.

Researchers have shown that music not only stimulates the cerebellum (the region of the brain that’s vital to motor control), but the connection between the cerebellum and the limbic system (the part that’s associated with our emotions), which explains why movement, emotion and music are so intimately correlated.

Music to move

Music moves us too, quite literally! A recent study found that music and dance share a parallel expression of emotion. When we listen to music, our bodies show all the symptoms of emotional arousal; our blood redirects to our legs, our pupils dilate and our blood pressure rises. Our brains become alive.

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When music is played before or during activity, it has ergogenic (work-enhancing) effects, improving our performance. Think of when you listen to music while you’re working out; the science supports your feeling that music both delays fatigue and lessens the subjective perception of fatigue. Indeed, it can increase physical capacity and improve energy efficiency, all enhancing our endurance.    

But does it matter what type of music you listen to? Just like the difference that various music has on our mood, songs affect us physically in different ways. And, while the pitch, mode and all sorts of other factors play a role, the tempo has the most profound effect.

Unsurprisingly, slow music decreases the heart rate and faster, upbeat music quickens the heartbeat. As humans, we can distinguish a range of tempos from around 40 to 300 beats per minute (bpm), however most music sits within a range of a laid-back 60bpm (the kinda stuff that you might do yoga or meditate to) through to a heavy-hitting 130bpm (like The Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Boom Boom Pow’).

Apparently we prefer a far narrower range than that though, as students mining the data from the Billboard charts found that, since the 1940s until today, the tempo of our most popular songs fluctuates only 5bpm and sits between 117 and 122 beats per minute. Another interesting finding by researchers was that heavier levels of bass in music led to people feeling more powerful, dominant and determined, so get your sub cranking.

Music merges

The link between movement and our feelings is so strong that the word ‘emotion’ even contains the word ‘motion’ and, across cultures, there is a three-way connection between music, movement and feelings.

Not only that, but there’s a universality to music – it bridges language and culture, bringing people together and seemingly connecting the unseen. It’s the common thread that binds us and there’s a common structure present throughout. Whether through music or movement, the expression of emotion is cross-culturally universal; they have the same dynamics and contours. While a painting or sculpture can evoke emotion, the visual arts don’t tend to be responsible for the contagious type that unifies a group – not like music is.

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Whether you’re adding to the mood of your BBQ or dinner party, or amping your gathering to a full-on salsa party, there’s nothing better than a good track…

FRIENDS, FUN, FUSION – it’s what music is all about. 

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