Why Music Evokes Emotion

We know that music can evoke powerful emotions; emotions so strong they produce physical effects, like frisson. That’s one of the reasons learning to play music is so wonderful; you can evoke these emotions in yourself, and in those around you, a feeling of being transported to a different plane of existence, for a few brief moments. Great music can be a life-altering, perspective changing experience. Why? How does music evoke such powerful feelings?

One way is through memory; a song can evoke a particular period of time or even a particular moment. For myself, most songs off of the Beatles Rubber Soul are evocative of a summer some years ago I spent riding in my friend’s car, going nowhere in particular, the warm air and psychedelic folk blending together into a kind of numbing bliss. Other times, music can be evocative of a very particular moment; I can’t hear Jungle Boogie without remembering my friend singing it at karaoke, to raucous applause from the not-all-there crowd. Music can help us remember good times and bad times, and it’s often self-referential, so you never know when you’ll hear a piece that brings you back to something that happened long ago.

Music is also the language of emotion; words convey an experience through simile and metaphor, while music is the experience. When we hear a slow, mournful song, it reminds us of sadness because the tempo and dissonance feel the way our minds feel when we’re grappling with insecurities or loss. A slow song doesn’t have to be sad, though; a song going at a languid pace with a killer bassline and a smooth flow might remind us of driving down a highway on a hot, humid day, relaxing and enjoying ourselves. A fast, frantically paced song might make you feel anxious or claustrophobic, especially if all of the instruments are close together in the mix. Music mirrors mental state.

Before we talk about the next facet of music that evokes an emotional response, I want you to think about it. What could it be? You might be craving the answer, but you’re not getting it yet. Soon. Probably within the next couple of sentences. Here it comes. After all this time, I must have built up a feeling of anticipation.  That feeling, of a build and release, is something we crave as humans; music is emotionally evocative for the same reasons that opening a present or exploring a new city is exciting. You know you’re going to find something, that they’ll be some kind of release, but how it will happen and what it will look like? Not knowing excites and tantalizes.

Feeling emotion when listening to music is one thing, but being able to create the music yourself, transferring your emotion through your voice or instrument to another person? That’s powerful. Winnipeg voice lessons are available so you can train your singing voice to convey every emotion imaginable with heart-piercing clarity. If you feel it, you’ll be able to express it. What’s more human than that?

Tone Deafness

We all have someone in our family we might accuse of tone deafness; it might be a little cousin whose vocals chords haven’t fully developed, or an embarrassing dad trying to hit the high notes in a Queen song. No matter who it is, we might wish they would just stop singing; after all, they can’t carry a tune through a paper bag! Here’s a question for you, though: when you call them on the phone, do they know who it is based on your voice? When a song comes on, do they recognize it? Are they really tone deaf?

Tone deafness, clinically known as amusia, comes in two forms: congenital and acquired. Acquired amusia is as a result of brain damage, and is often coupled with other problems. Congenital amusia, conversely, affects only about 4% of the population. It’s a bizarre occurrence, because it does not affect the ability to distinguish between voices and emotions in human speech; it only affects the ability to recognize facets of music. A person with congenital amusia would not be able to recognize an out-of-place note in an unfamiliar melody; they can’t differentiate between dissonance and consonance.

At first glance, this appears totally out of the ordinary; after all, if they can distinguish pitches when people are speaking to them, shouldn’t they simply be able to learn music? Here’s where things get interesting: infants are incredibly sensitive to music at a very young age. They can appreciate musical scales, and they understand concepts of consonance and dissonance. That means most people come pre-equipped with an ability to process and appreciate music, unless you’re in the unlucky 4% who truly can’t pick out one melody from another.

That means if you can hear music, understand consonance and dissonance and appreciate a good melody, you’re probably not tone-deaf at all! You just need to train your ear and your voice to better pick out and sing notes, and this is something that can be done with a healthy dose of practice. You can test this out yourself; when someone else sings a note, try to sing the same note as them, or try to sing the same note being played from a piano! If you can, you’re not tone-deaf, just out of practice. After you get some experience, you’ll be astounded by the things you can do from your voice; you’ll be able to find harmonies everywhere, and create beautiful melodies on a whim.

Folks who feel like they’re tone deaf are often shy about performing in public. That might cause them to avoid music lessons. We wanted to solve that problem; after all, if you love music, there should be no barrier between you and getting better. To do this, we’ve created a plethora of quality and affordable in-home music lessons, so that you can practice in the comfort of your own space and develop your skills before you take it to the big times.

The Music in Mood Regulation Scale

Music is powerful; it can make you think, make you feel, make you dance, even make you fall in love. Whether you’re playing or listening, there’s a lot music can do to shift your perception and change your experience; sufficient experience with music can even change your worldview, your way of hearing and understanding the world. The wide array of experiences that come from listening to music can seem hard to categorize, so a researcher in Finland decided to make it easier. They constructed a scale to evaluate how people use music to regulate their mood, the aptly titled Music in Mood Regulation Scale (MMR).

The scale was targeted towards adolescents, who will quite often listen to music as a technique for regulating their emotions; as such, the survey for developing the scale was taken by people from 10-20 years old, with a mean range of 15.01. The scale was made to target listeners of music, specifically because not everyone plays an instrument or sings; that said, when you’re playing a piece, you usually feel it. There’s no scale for playing music to regulate mood that I’m aware of, but it feels like this scale should apply to a piece you’re playing for catharsis, as well.

The scale posits 7 different categories for the use of music in regulating emotion. The first is Entertainment, which is pretty self-explanatory; the use of music to create, prolong or enhance positive feelings. The second, Revival, is familiar to anyone who uses a jam to get pumped up before work; it’s the use of music to get energy when you’re stressed or tired. The third, Strong Sensation, is familiar to listeners and musicians alike; it’s the use of music to create an intense emotion, anything from transcendent euphoria to deep sadness.  The fourth, Mental Work, is the use of music to provoke thinking, or to create a space suitable for contemplation.

The four categories discussed above all relate to using music to create new emotional states or awareness; the last three are for coping with negative emotion. The first is Diversion, which is quite simply the use of music to distract yourself from unpleasant thoughts with pleasant music. The second is Solace, the ability to find something akin to empathy for negative feelings within music, and by doing so, finding comfort and acceptance. The last is Discharge, the release of negative emotions by listening or singing along to music that expresses those same negative emotions.

This scale on iitsown doesn’t necessarily tell us anything we didn’t know about how people use music to regulate emotion, but by its development, gives us a framework through which to evaluate which listening techniques are most useful, which could allow researchers to develop studies for music therapy while all using the same basic scale. At Academy of Music, we offer in home music lessons; given the power of learning music to train both the emotional and rational mind, and the comfort learners find in their home, it’s a method we wholeheartedly endorse.

The Good, The Bad: The Musical

Music is so varied, and used for so many different reasons, it can feel hard to pin down all of it’s benefits. It can be used to create a particular ambiance; sometimes used to convince people to stay in your bar for another drink, other times used to convince young people to stay away from your establishment (honestly, those kids are missing out; loiter awhile longer and listen to Bach). Music can also be used to regulate emotion; it’s so common that a Music for Mood Regulation (MMR) scale has been developed, which you can read about in one of our previous blog posts. All kinds of changes can be inspired by music; most good, but some negative.

A meta study was conducted by McGill University to evaluate some of the positive effects that music can have, and the results were pretty astonishing. As it turns out, music affects more than just your mood in a positive way; listening to music can literally change your physiology. The presence of cells that attack harmful bacteria and germs, as well as antibodies that aid in mucous system immunity, is increased when you listen to music. The presence of cortisol, the stress hormone, is found to be lower when playing or listening to music.

There are other potential positive implications for music use in broader society; there are some telltale signs that seem to indicate music can increase social cohesion through changes to the presence of oxytocin in the human body. Music has also been used successfully to help with a wide variety of cognitive therapies for Alzheimer’s and other illnesses. The meta study conducted at McGill asks researchers to look deeper into the benefits of music, how playing music differs from listening, and how it might be used in a wide variety of treatments. The future of music as a tool for therapy looks incredibly bright.

There may, however, be ways of listening to music that are not beneficial. Consider the MMR; the scale includes three ways of using music to regulate negative emotion: Diversion, Solace, and Discharge. Diversion is the use of music to distract oneself from negative emotions; listening or playing an upbeat song to stop feeling so down. Solace is listening or playing to music that matches your mood; it’s almost a form of empathy, music that’s there for you, and lets you know that others have felt how you feel. Discharge is when you use music to express negative emotions. Women tend to use Diversion and Solace more, while men are more prone to using Discharge. Discharge seems to be linked with some bad coping strategies; men who use it tend to ruminate more, and it might actually worsen emotional states; the same was not found to be true for women. One idea about why this is happening is that men tend to externalize their emotions, which is not always the best coping strategy.

There’s a lot of progress being made in music schools to better understand how music affects our bodies and minds, but as we can see from the studies, there’s a lot of room left to go. It’s an exciting time to be involved in the world of music, from listening, to playing, to researching, so get involved!

Fall is just around the corner!

With summer coming to an end and fall just around the corner, The Academy of Music would like to extend a warm welcome back to all students!
Have you been wanting to pick up that guitar you’ve had for ages? What about that piano in the corner of your living room you’ve been meaning to play?
The Academy of Music offers a wide array of music lessons for the aspiring musician ranging from piano, guitar, voice and more!
With our trained instructors coupled with the convenience of in-home or online music lessons, living the life of a musician has never been easier!

Register today!

Children’s Art Tax Credit

As you may know, the 2016 federal budget has eliminated the Children’s Arts Credit for 2017 and subsequent taxation years. The provincial government however offers a Children’s Arts and Cultural Activity Tax Credit that provides parents of children under 16 with a non-refundable benefit of up to $500 of eligible expenses per child may be claimed for participation in eligible non-fitness activities including music lessons. Please keep your receipts given to you by your instructor as they will be sufficient to claim this credit. For more information please visit the Government of Manitoba tax information link below.

https://www.gov.mb.ca/finance/personal/pcredits.html#cultural