For some reason, I’ve been thinking about my grandfather this weekend. Perhaps it’s because I’m planning on fiddling around, just a little. ‘Tis the season to be overly busy, and also to take a breath – when we can.
As for my fiddling?
As I seek to unwind, I may opt for an opus or settle on a sonata. Either way, music is a magnificent mind manipulator – energizing or soothing.
Who doesn’t feel more optimistic when happy music fills our spaces?
Who doesn’t recall the fear factor in the soundtrack to Jaws?
Who isn’t inclined to amorous attentions when mood is maneuvered by specific melodies – those that recall romantic encounters?
We’ve all experienced the way music can alter mood, but what’s the science behind it?
According to Discovery News, music triggers our brains to release that feel-good chemical, dopamine. In short, much like enjoyment of food or sex, music creates pleasure – which may explain why music has always been part of human history.
Scientific American cites a study noting that music is emotionally evocative, and consequently, sad melodies reinforce sorrows, while cheery tunes tend to perk us up.
Psychology Today speaks to the neurobiology of music therapy, and its ability to soothe agitated patients. Haven’t we all experienced this – as we fiddle with the dial or the remote and look for just the right tune to suit our mood – or change it?
Music Memories, Music Magic
Surely, I’m not the only one who visualizes images and colors when I listen to specific symphonies. And I’m certain we all flash back to earlier days when we hear a tune from our teenage years.
As for the mystery of musical motivation – if it’s time to clean or organize, then stow the slow stuff and hit me with the Rolling Stones. When I’m feeling amorous I choose something else entirely, and when driving and seeking exactly the right combination of “stay awake” and “feel good,” it’s heavy metal techno I-don’t-know-what – courtesy of my sons.
I wonder about the process of making music – sitting at a keyboard or strumming a guitar and riffing with other musicians. Is it the process of creating that nonetheless fills us with a spirit of satisfaction? Is it akin to the writer writing, or the painter painting?
Instrumental in Engagement or Disengagement?
Whether making music or listening to it, there’s little doubt in its ability to increase our engagement (and pleasure) in certain activities, or to disengage (from the unpleasant) and self-soothe when it comes to others.
In the meantime, I found myself wiling away an hour exploring stringed instruments, charmed by all there is to discover beyond what is so familiar in Western cultures – the violin, the cello, the base, the banjo, the harp, the guitar. A few searches online and I was reading about lyres, balalaikas, sitars, auto-harps, and more.
For example, there is the zither, which you can strum or pluck, still found both in Alpine regions as well as East Asia. Apparently, its use may be found as far back as 433 B. C.. (So says Wikipedia… )
For some other stringed delights, take a peek at these instruments – made from palm fronds!
Whistle a Happy Tune
While I’m still not in the mood for carols as I cruise cosmetics, I succumb to a soft spot for Bach and Vivaldi as soon as there is a nip in the air. And that makes me wonder what sorcery lives inside the tunes we carry in our heads, beyond dopamine and its “happiness power,” and why music impacts mood to such a great extent.
And on that note… I think again of my grandfather, his utter contentment when making music on any number of stringed and brass instruments. I think of my older son on his flute, my younger at the piano, and my own pleasure in listening to all of it.
- Is music an important part of your life? Of your holiday festivities?
- Do you associate certain instruments or tunes with family history?
- Does music energize you, calm you, or encourage a more uplifting mood?