Music can be a very personal expression and it can say a lot about a person and their character. Take for example when you get onto the train bleary eyed at 7am and there’s a commuter in your carriage blasting heavy rock on their way to work, or when you take a ride in a friend’s car and you hear what’s on their playlist – their preferences may take you by surprise, right? You know nothing about that person on the train, but that music choice gives you a very quick first impression, and the same goes for your friend’s music playlist – it gives you a little insight into their personality, their tastes, and because music has a way of tapping into our emotions, this can be quite a personal insight. There is also the split between those who actively seek out their music choices – going to gigs, sharing playlists and getting into the music scene more generally, compared to those who are happy with whatever is playing – maybe switch on the radio, listen to the latest charts, and that’s cool too. I would like to think that I am the former, but unless I am exposed to new music through live settings, I find that I go for the easier option, or I relay my ’90s favourites, and then when you get into my car and Ace of Base is playing, well, you make the call on that one.
Music is a fascinating subject, and there’s a science to it – not to say that I am an expert, but music is known to alter our moods, to have both a physical and psychological effect on how we behave. Studies have shown that music can in fact elevate your mood and can alleviate the effects of depression, and it’s all linked to stress-related hormones like cortisol, and to certain structures in the brain related to emotion regulation, positive mood, attention span and even memory. Think of all those lyrics you pick up when you listen to your favourite songs on repeat, or even tunes from your childhood, and how those words have set themselves deep into your long-term memory bank. Music is something we internalise, sometimes without even realising it, and the fact that people’s music tastes differ so widely is testament to how different we are as people, and how even the same people listen to a variety of music depending on mood, situation, age, and so on. And these are just a few of the positive effects that listening to music can have on your health.
1. It gets us moving
The right music is so important when we work out, and we all associate a good workout vibe with the beats we move to – particularly when it comes to cardio focus and HIIT training. The beats are what keep you on track, and the energy you get from the music can make all the difference to your overall workout performance.
2. It can help to de-stress us
Choosing music with longer drawn out notes, a slow tempo and more gradual chord progressions will likely have a more calming effect on the body; think of yoga sessions with soothing meditative music in the background, or going for a massage and how the tranquil environment is created by the choice of music. It’s all about how our body responds to the beats, and once we focus on the progression of the music, we move away from the stressors and anxieties that are playing on our minds. It’s not a permanent solution, but having time out helps us to re set and recalibrate before going back to what may have been causing us stress, helping to approach it differently the second time round.
3. It blocks out external noise
A lot of us live in urban metropolises, surrounded by external noises – incessant road noise, airplanes flying overhead, people stumbling home after a night on the town, and it’s this continuous noise that slowly affects us over time, even if we don’t realise it. Music is a really effective way to drown out that external noise and focus instead on sounds that calm you, or energise you, or just put you in a good mood – the reason being that this is noise you are in control of. You pick the tracks, you choose the volume, and it’s up to you how long it goes on for.
4. It can aid concentration
Now this point definitely depends on the person, and it depends on what task you’re doing, as different levels of concentration are required for different types of work. It also depends on the type of music you choose to play. For example, when I am writing, I find music with lyrics distracting, and I find myself typing the words of the song, or my mind drifts to concentrate more on the song itself. But a track with a more relaxed rhythm and no lyrics will have a totally different effect. Many surgeons play music before they operate, and sometimes during as it can help with levels of concentration and focus, or it helps to move their mind away from stressors so they begin with a clear mind.
5. It gets our creative juices flowing
Music can definitely help us to think more creatively, and break down blocks that we might be facing. By moving our attention to the music, internalising the beats, we drift away from that creative block, letting our minds move the point of focus elsewhere, and unravel concepts and ideas that we weren’t able to get to before. For me, it’s taking myself out of the present moment and letting my mind literally relax. Our brains have to retain so much information day to day, that sometimes they just need 30 minutes to not think so that they can make sense of all the information we have bombarded them with. Once you get that headspace, things are able to come together more freely, more organically, which is when you have your lightbulb idea moments.
6. It’s great for our long-term memory
Think about all those lyrics you remember from childhood, from your teenage years, and how you reel off words you didn’t even know you remembered. My recent experience of a Backstreet Boys concert here in Dubai (yes I am that cool) proved this very theory. I hadn’t heard some of these tracks in 10+ years, but I found myself belting out all the lyrics without even having to think.
7. It lifts our mood Singing in the shower, dancing around your flat listening to your favourite guilty pleasure, taking colleagues to a karaoke bar as an ice breaker, spending a weekend at a musical festival – it’s all about the music. Think about how music acts as a medium of bringing people together, of setting the vibe for a dinner party, or even just taking a break from Excel spreadsheets at the office to go and listen to a few tracks. I find the power of music quite incredible actually; how it can tap into our brains and generate a tangible response in our bodies, how it creates a space for us to bypass our rational side and tap into our emotions, if only for the duration of that track. That’s not to say that all music is resoundingly impactful – I certainly don’t get tingles when I am listening to elevator music, but we’ve all experienced the positive effects in one way or another, so you know where I am coming from. I think it’s time to go and create a few playlists, don’t you?