Have you ever heard a piece of music that made you cry? One that launches you back in time? A particular singer’s voice (or an instrument) that is hypnotic to you? Is there music that you’ve almost worn out by playing it over and over because it strikes something deep inside you? How about a song that always makes you jump up and dance? I might not believe you if you answer “no” to any of these, unless, of course, you’re just not prone to jumping up and dancing like I am! Maybe instead you’re a toe-tapping, head-bobber! I find myself completely inspired by music and those who produce it in any way.
Music is everywhere
Music is the universal language. There is not a culture in existence that does not make music in some way. People around the world, and even children, will make an instrument out of anything available to them: spoons, springs, sticks, twine, boxes, buckets, …anything…
We celebrate with music. We have songs of joy. Our grief has a musical accompaniment. We have music when we gather for rituals (see last week’s blog by Amy). Couples often identify “our song.” Parents sing to their babies and babies “sing” back to them. Dance is almost always partnered with music. There are songs about music, songs, and singing. We have movies about music and musicians–my 2 favorites: Almost Famous (2000) and Begin Again (2013).
Live music, in particular, has always been inspiring to me. I’ve always felt like my brain was being “rearranged” when in the presence of musical artists delivering their craft.
What do you play?
My ex-husband and my children all played music and each have some degree of the ability to play “by ear” alongside their formal training. That gift simply amazes me. Because of this, people often asked me, “What do you play?” But since I had no training, exposure, or inherent talent, I used to sadly reply, “Nothing.” Then it hit me and I changed my answer: “I play audience. And I’m really good.”
I really appreciate all genres of music—mostly because I am even more inspired by talent. I have music I cook to; music in the background while I write; I use music to set a mood for company; I have a separate playlist of party music; and my own genre of music to grade by. (Fun fact from Mercasa: Did you know that grading is much more efficient with country music in the background? Works for me!)
The poetry of folk/singer-songwriters’ lyrics inspire me. Songs that tell a story are often meaningful to us as a narrative of our lives. I also love what my kids have deemed “happy music”—upbeat and energetic. And then there is simple drumming which is meditative to me. My favorite instrument is the cello. But I really love all kinds of music. From Gregorian Chants and classical to Rap and Hip-hop. If someone asks my favorite song, I have a hard time choosing.
I used to wear a fit bit primarily to track my overall activity level and sleep. I checked it once for the previous week and it recorded that I was asleep at 9pm on Friday night. Knowing that wasn’t right, I backtracked in my mind and realized I was sitting and listening to live jazz in a semi-crowded club (on a particularly comfy sofa) that night. Apparently, the music had hypnotized me and I was in such a relaxed state that my rather crude fit bit measure thought I was asleep! (I assure you I was not.)
The Science of Music
In fact, the science of music is fascinating. Music is connected to emotional processing centers in our brains. It’s also closely tied to memory pathways. The simple equation is that emotions enhance memory processes and music evokes strong emotions; therefore, music is likely involved in forming memories1. That is why a song can take you right back to a person, place, and/or time in your life—one that you might not otherwise be able to easily recall. Additionally, researchers have found that they can reach people with significant memory problems (dementia and Alzheimer’s) through music. People who may not know their family members may suddenly ‘”come alive” and sing all the words to a familiar song.
And that sense of my brain being “rearranged” listening to live music? Well, there is some science behind that too. Researchers found evidence that audience members’ brains at a live performance synchronize with each other and enhance social connection more than in conditions with recorded music or one in which there are only a few (isolated) audience members2. That synchronization is in the Delta band of brain waves and creates a state of greater enjoyment. Delta waves are associated with deep levels of relaxation and the restorative state we experience in deep sleep. (My fit bit reading explained!)
Music has the potential to reduce stress, improve health outcomes (lower heart rate and blood pressure), stimulate the release of oxytocin (the bonding hormone), improve cognitive functioning, and increase happiness. Just to name a few…
What music inspires you?
So what music inspires you? If you had an inspiring (or inspired) playlist, what 12 songs would you put on it?
Here are mine (in no particular order). At least mine today…tomorrow might be different!
- Tupelo Honey — VanMorrison
- The Weight – (The Band) as performed by Playing for Change (watch the video!)
- Crash – Dave Matthews
- Black Water – The Doobie Brothers
- More Than A Feeling – Boston
- Sister Golden Hair – America
- American Pie – Don Maclean
- Sweet Mistakes – Ellis Paul
- Wedding Song – Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters
- Learning to Fly – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- Lover — Taylor Swift
- Heart Like a Levee — Hiss Golden Messenger
(p.s.This list quickly grew from 6 to 10 to 12…and then I just had to stop.)
Life is Messy, Friends—allow yourself to be marvelously inspired by music.
Rhea Ann Merck, PhD
I’m a Licensed Psychologist and I’ve had a private practice in Columbia, SC, since 1996. I also provide clinical and consulting services with the athletic department at the university. A persistent woman, mother of 2 amazing young women, writer, teacher, life-long learner, curious & creative human, lover of life, I am passionate about making life better every day… for more, visit my outdated website at www.ramphd.com or email me at [email protected]
1Jäncke, L. (2008). Music, memory, and emotion. Journal of Biology, 7(21). Available online here.
2Read more here in NeuroscienceNews.com
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