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Music and Our Wellbeing: “More Than Just Something to Listen To”



BMGPM’s Thomas Cottrell and Daisy Foster join clinical psychologist Dr Lucy Viney to explore the intrinsic link between music and emotion

Music and Our Wellbeing: “More Than Just Something to Listen To”
Music is universally acknowledged for being able to lift your mood. Blasting out your favourite feel-good track can be one of the first things you turn to during moments when you feel low, stressed or anxious. 

In lockdown, many have been turning to music both as a form of entertainment and as emotional support, from DJs taking their sets online to communities singing together across their balconies.

“Music is definitely more than just something to listen to,” says Thomas Cottrell of BMGPM. “I was a young teenager when I first started to realise how infinite discovering music was. It has a multitude of functions, be it physical when you’re experiencing it on the dancefloor, or emotional when it transports you back to specific times or places. I struggle with anxiety sometimes and I’ve found that music can help me break the difficult cycle of thoughts.”

“Music encapsulates a particular time period which is why it means so much to us,” agrees BMGPM’s Daisy Foster. “My music interests growing up became a part of my identity, so much so that I felt guilty for secretly enjoying other genres. If I’m feeling a bit flat and need to feel energised I always have my go to tracks that help me feel better and more motivated.”

Thomas Cottrell, BMGPM

How Is Music Connected To Our Emotions?

Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of The Fitzrovia Psychology Clinic in London, Dr Lucy Viney says: “There is an increasing body of neurological research that shows the impact of music on our emotions. Music can relax the mind, energise the body, and even help people better manage pain.” 

A recent study by psychologists and computer scientists at the University of Southern California* investigated how music affects how you act, feel and think. The research team looked at heart rate, galvanic skin response (sweat gland activity), brain activity and subjective feelings of happiness and sadness in a group of volunteers as they listened to three pieces of unfamiliar music. 

The research found that listening to music activates the temporal lobe, a part of the brain responsible for processing auditory information, encoding of memory and the processing of emotions. Of the 74 musical features examined, the researchers found dynamics, register, rhythm and harmony were particularly helpful in predicting listeners’ responses. 

Lucy comments: “As the research indicates, music has an incredible power on our emotional experiences. It is interesting that this medium has been found to have a greater impact on how we feel than other sensory experiences, such as reading or visualisations. Even pre-verbal children are able to obtain emotional and semantic meaning from music from a very young age, and so music is able to communicate with people on a very unique and primitive level, before we are even able to speak.”

Dr Lucy Viney, Fitzrovia Psychology Clinic

Music In Difficult Times

“I think music has such power on our emotions because it is able to cut right to the source of what it means to be human,” Thomas says. “Something which is pretty difficult to describe, but music seems to resonate innately with whatever that is.”

Lucy notes that “especially at times like these, music is playing an increasingly important role in helping people manage their mental health. It has a powerful ability to connect us with other people, and during challenging times, music can be used to elicit emotions that are more ‘difficult’.”

But it’s not always the songs that bring you instant happiness that work. “Sometimes listening to music that reflects pain and suffering can be a very cathartic experience and allows us to connect with our own pain in a way that would be hard to access without the musical connection. Connecting with other people’s emotional experiences is a deeply important aspect of managing our mental wellbeing, and feeling that we are not alone in times of difficulty,” she explains. 

Thomas adds: “I think creating music has a similarly profound effect. I produce music and I don’t always know what I’m doing, but the feeling you get when something works and really grooves is great. I’ve always talked about accidents and how the unintended can often lead to some of the best results, which I think loops in with how music resonates innately with humans without us knowing why.”

“It’s like any hobby,” Daisy states. “It can be cathartic just to switch off and focus on something that brings you joy or gives you a sense of achievement, but there is something special between the relationship with music and your mind. I used to play the guitar and I’m not the best player now, but each time I learn something new I feel good for improving and at the same time I sometimes connect with the music that I’m playing as well. Everyone knows that some of the best pieces of music were made when the writer was going through something – it’s almost a requirement for an amazing track to be amazing. A listener will connect with a track if it feels genuine.”

Daisy Foster, BMGPM

So next time you’re selecting music to help you feel better, think about what you resonate with. What is it about that style that soothes you or excites you? It’s personal to everyone.

“For me, it’s usually upbeat, has a catchy melody, and a catchy vocal that I can sing along too,” offers Daisy. “In terms of relaxing, I’ve been listening to this breakbeat track by Eris Drew called Trans Love Vibration. It has a relaxed beat, a really nice muted vibrato synth and repetitive vocal line that makes it feel quite chilled out.”

Lucy says: “When I want to feel happier, I like listening to classic reggae music. My husband has a West Indian heritage and the laidback rhythm and upbeat lyrics remind me of happy times on holiday and being in the sun. ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ by Desmond Deckker and ‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’ by Jimmy Cliff are two of my favourite tracks. When I want to feel calmer, my favourite artist is Alexis Ffrench.”

And for Thomas there’s nothing better than “cheesy personal classics to help when you need a mood booster (shout out to Crystal Waters – Gypsy Woman on that front). To relax I turn to albums I used to listen to on holidays long ago like Zero 7 or music that my dad used to session in the car like The Fugees or The Score.”

For more inspiration see BMGPM’s curated lockdown playlists: 

* Reference: Greer, T., Ma, B., Sachs, M., Habibi, A., & Narayanan, S. (2019, October). A Multimodal View into Music's Effect on Human Neural, Physiological, and Emotional Experience. In Proceedings of the 27th ACM International Conference on Multimedia (pp. 167-175).

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BMG Production Music, Wed, 13 May 2020 10:54:08 GMT