Have you ever really thought about how a song makes you feel? How it plays on your mood, brings back certain memories and triggers all types of emotions. Personal connotations aside, music is known to aid a variety of illnesses and disorders Jane Fayle takes a look at the continuing complexity of music and the power of music therapy.

Everyday we wake up in a different mood for one reason or another. When you align your feelings with different genres of music a certain pattern can take shape. When I’m feeling happy and I listen to a song that is upbeat and draws on a fun and exciting memory, the music heightens these feelings. Or a track comes on that you remember from that night out last summer and you’re taken right back. Whatever the case may be, we all have a history associated with songs. But aside from triggering bouts of nostalgia, music can do way more than we may think. President of the National Australian Music Therapy Association Dr. Grace Thompson says, “what we know about the way songs affect us is that our own personal choice and interest in the music is a really large factor.”

This idea makes me think about a time I have been with friends and put on a track that I really love, only for them to tell me how depressing it is. So what is it about music that can cause different emotions to be triggered? “It is a difficult question to answer from that perspective and that’s because we also have associations and a history with songs. You might have a loved a song and then someone plays it at their funeral and it’s kind of destroyed for you forever,” says Thompson.

Music not only plays on our moods both good and bad but is also used in a therapeutic approach to help sufferers of mental illness, dementia, cancer patients, children with disabilities along with a number of other disorders. Through his acclaimed book Musicophilia, Dr Oliver Sacks explores in detail the power of music with a number of real life examples, offering an insight to the public. As a professor of neurology, his work has allowed him to delve much deeper into this issue after observing the positive effects of music on his patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. What Sacks finds is that again, taste or previous preferences plays a pivotal role in patient response.

Dr Thompson believes that “music is an amazing intervention because it works on so many different levels so you can look at it from the level of being stimulation for the brain. For some conditions it might be about the brain, so music is stimulating or exercising if you like, those parts of the brain that need some extra input.”

This preference and response finding furthers the idea that our music choices offer an acute insight into our personalities. Like anything else in life, the assessment of what we like or don’t like allows us the capacity to exert feelings for more unknown reasons, touching us on an emotional level.

In particular, music in film has this potential – if we are watching a horror movie and intense and erratic music comes on we know something scary is about to happen, as Anna Horan discussed recently in this magazine. Without this music triggering past memories, would we be watching in anticipation and fear.

When you look at the capability that music has on each and everyone of us, and consider that what you listen to now may be your only lifeline to memories in the future, it really makes you think twice about what track to put on.

To read my original post from Spook Magazine please click here.


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