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The Psychology of Music

photo by Desi Mendoza
photo by Desi Mendoza

The first memory that I can recall is of my mother. She is at the kitchen sink washing dishes, swaying back and forth while singing along with the song that is playing in the living room, and I am happy. Music has always been a very big part of my life, a constant. Growing up there was always music playing in my home. I knew every word to “Bat Out Of Hell”, “Tiny Dancer”, and “Ain’t Even Done With The Night”, before I knew the Alphabet song. I may not have understood the lyrics back then, probably a good thing, but that’s not the point. The point is that I was introduced to a lifelong appreciation and passion, and at a very early age. I truly believe that music can do things for a person that medication alone can’t.

Hold on now, I didn’t say music was a cure, or to jump off of your meds and hit the festival circuit. We’re going to take a look at what music can do for your moods and you mental health, as well as the positive effects it has on your physical health. Music is a powerful thing; it has saved lives. More therapists are using music therapy to help cancer patients, children diagnosed with ADHD, and people living with depression. There really is something to it.

I can still recall the song that was playing during my first school dance when the boy I had a crush on asked me to dance. It was my first slow dance and it was awkward, exciting, and embarrassing all at the same time. I stayed up for hours that night listening to that song. Those three and half minutes that we bumbled our way through that dance happened over twenty years ago, but even after all those years when I hear that song, it takes me right back to that gymnasium. Studies have shown that music can elicit memories. Neurons and scientific things that I cannot begin to grasp all come into play here. Music has played a big factor in helping people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease remember things. I don’t need the science to back this. Fifteen years as a nursing aide working with people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s has proved this over and over.

Music has power. Music is intense. Regardless of your taste in the different genres, they all have the potential to speak to you in ways that nothing else can. When we struggle to find the words to explain how we feel, or we think no one understand the pain that we suffer, chances are there is a song that expresses exactly what we can’t. Music can help heal a broken heart, or allow you to engulf yourself in the pain of loss for a little bit. It is a healthy way to acknowledge and validate your feelings. The first time my young teenage heart got shattered, I spent a weekend curled up in my bedroom, shutting the world out and blaring my boom box, alternating Roxette’s  “It Must Have Been Love” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares To You”.  My dad would come in and tell me that the boy who caused my first heartache wasn’t worth my tears and that during my life I would fall in and out of love. His compassion was endless, and it was a lesson in a father’s attempt to ease his daughter’s pain, but the music was my solace; it’s still that way to this very day.

Bipolar disorder has tried it’s hardest to take me down a few times and I have had to receive extensive inpatient treatments to come out stronger. During one of many stays in a psychiatric hospital, I was allowed my iPod. My children’s father had created an amazing playlist for me and had named it, “we’re right beside you” The first song was Marianas Trench’s “Right Beside You”. That song, those lyrics, the harmonies and melodies played a crucial part in regaining my stability, balance, and helping me to find my voice again. It had such an impact on me that when I hear it now I am filled with such an empowered feeling of love and support, and the idea that someone gets it.

Now that I’ve shared a little bit of what music has done for me, let me tell you how I use it every single day to boost my moods when I’m feeling down, or calm them when I’m feeling rampy or agitated:

Playlists

I have no idea how many playlists I have. There is music everywhere to be had (please don’t illegally download.) Here is my breakdown:

The Road Rage Playlist – Oh yeah, sometimes I get agitated on the road, so this list is filled with songs that are calming but beautiful at the same time. Some are upbeat, some don’t have a care in the world, but all do the trick of alleviating the agitation when I can just listen. Here’s a sample of what’s on this one.

  • Bob Marley, “Stir it Up”
  • Jack Johnson, “Constellations” & “Better Together”
  • Rise Against, “Swing Life Away”
  • Elton John, “Tiny Dancer”

The Pump Me up Playlist – When I have absolutely no energy or desire to do anything but stuff has to get done, music help me accomplish my tasks. Here is a little sampling of what is on this particular playlist of mine:

  • Buddy Holly, “Rave On”
  • ACDC, “Thunderstruck”
  • Charlie Daniels Band, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”
  • Aerosmith & Run DMC, “Walk This Way”

The I Just Want To Embrace My Sadness Playlist – Hey, we all get sad, and anyone who tells you that it’s not ok to embrace that for a bit, I question. Look, I’m not a doctor, but feelings are valid. Just don’t hang out and live there. Acknowledge your feelings and cry it out if you need to, it’s ok. This is some of mine:

  • Righteous Brothers, “Unchained Melody”
  • Bob Dylan, “Knockin on Heaven’s Door”
  • Nazareth, “Love Hurts”
  • Aerosmith, “Full Circle”

The I Am Going To Pull Myself Out Of This Hole Playlist – Because sometimes we need that extra help, and I honestly believe that music is such a powerful antidote to depression that combined with your wellness plan and sheer grit, it can work miraculous things. It has honestly saved my life. Here’s a sample:

  • Jimmy Eat World, “In The Middle”
  • OneRepublic, “I Lived”
  • Bon Jovi, “It’s My Life”
  • Bif Naked, “I Love Myself Today”

I think this could be the most personal post I’ve ever written for all of you, but it’s something I truly believe in. Again, it’s not a cure all, and your taste and preference doesn’t matter. The proof doesn’t lie. You know yourself how hearing an old song can take you back. It can bring up those nostalgic feelings. Again, it’s a tool to help you, in the moment, try to flip your mood. It’s not a cure; it’s not something that’s going to take away your illness. But, music has been proven to lower blood pressure, calm panic attacks; pump up athletes ready for a big game, and ground people in preparation for meditation.

It is powerful, and I couldn’t imagine my life without a song.

 

 

 

 

The Psychology of Music


Nicole Lyons


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APA Reference
Lyons, N. (2015). The Psychology of Music. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/embracing-balance/2015/05/the-psychology-of-music/

 

Last updated: 25 May 2015
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.