Music is all around us, but how often are you feeling it? Chances are, all the time – good or bad, you are reacting to the music you hear. Just as you are a sum of energy, music comprises an energetic environment to respond to and connect with. Consequently, music has a huge impact on everything you do. From shopping to cooking, meditating to driving – music influences how we perceive things, establishes memories and sways our moods and behaviors. Soft, long-held notes center our mood to a tranquil, calmed state whereas abrupt and distorted sounds may increase anxiety and put us in an aggressive mood. The most important factor to recognize, however, is that your response to music is all relative.

Every individual reacts differently to music, even when listening to the same song. Music has the ability to make you feel happy, sad, content and triumphant, but no two people have the exact same feelings about the sounds they hear. We do, however, have similar physical responses such as changes in breathing and heart rate variations but because we are all operating at different energy levels with different experiences influencing our impressions, no two experiences are identical.

Identifying why music influences our mood is not as objective as you may think. Although some songs are obvious, like Adele’s evocative “Someone Like You”, which is arguably due to the musical ornament known as “appoggiatura” (an accented dissonance between a note and the preceding melody), other songs, like heavy metal’s hostile nature, can unexpectedly result in calmed aftereffects. The therapeutic effects of music have also been known to lower anxiety in animals and affect plant growth.  In general, experiments between classical music and rock, like those with animals, plants, and babies, indicate a forward or positive motion towards the intermittent and graceful tones of classical songs versus a distancing motion when exposed to forceful and dischordant music. Experiment with this for yourself! Try a muscle test with “You Belong To Me” and “Painkiller” (no need for more than 2 minutes) and record your own response. Which song does your body favor?

It is also worth noting that there is some science, and manipulation, involved in the relationship between mood and music. For example, our minds are actually innately programmed to respond positively to major chords while minor chords inflict sadness or fear. Listen as this pianist exhibits the undeniable effect between a very slight difference of just 3 notes in Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”. Do you feel the happiness that emanates from the notes when he plays the song in A Major and moves to E Major? It’s no joke – there is something to the idea that there are “formulas” for songs that are popularized and that something is your subconscious reaction when exposed to certain cadences, melodies, and sounds.

Your response to music is not just a product of the music itself, but of your associations with the music. In other words, music influences your mood just as much as your mood influences your opinion of the music. Harry Witchel uses the violent example of a scene from A Clockwork Orange to explain the mental association to music, citing that “feelings are often highly personal and idiosyncratic.” Think about your wedding song or “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1”, these songs generally have a positive connotation that will make you feel warm and nostalgic. But what if your marriage didn’t work out? Your wedding song may not be held in such regard, but will rather be unfavorable. The same holds true whenever you hear a song, if you are in a bad mood, you are more likely to dislike or criticize a song. Just as a tuning fork’s vibrations affect the frequency of a room, your attitude vibrates with a song and vice versa. This is why when you are feeling a certain emotion, you crave a specific song – your brain actively seeks music in order to manipulate a desired emotion.

Next time you hear a song, think about how your body and mind are responding. What mood are you currently in? Does the song vibrate with that mood or are your vibrations affecting your impression of the music? What frequency is the music vibrating at? Listen to your body’s response and recognize the emotions music makes you feel.

by Britt Witt