Music To My Ears: Keeping Sane During Finals

by Dylan Bole
Digital Editor

The day is a long one with three classes, one presentation and intramurals. Your mind is tired and your legs are sore. Yet, once you enter your room and turn on your favorite song, all the stress of the day disappears and calmness comes over your body. 

Research has shown that music can slow your heart rate, relieve muscle tension, slow down rapid breathing and decrease the level of stress hormones released.  Slower forms of music such as classical, R&B and instrumental all provide listeners with these benefits. 

Lighten the Mood

Even digital music services have created playlists to compliment their listener’s moods. Spotify contains many playlists with the names “Get Happy” and “Calm Down” that support the listener’s need to relax or improve their mood, revealing that music has a substantial impact on our physical and emotional functions.  

The music’s interaction with the limbic system causes the body to release tension. “I feel less tense, and my muscles relax when I listen to music,” said Damian Mendoza, a junior pre-med major.

Music has a profound affect on the brainstem, which is responsible for blood pressure, heart rate and respiration.  The tempo of the music releases neurons such as dopamine causing the listener to find pleasure in the music, according to a study on the neurochemistry of music done by psychology students at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. This interaction within the brain influences the cardiovascular functions of heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.  Thus, the simple slow tempo of a song has significant influence on the body’s basic functions.  

Music can also affect your movement due to the cerebellum being stimulated since the cerebellum at the back of the brain controls muscular activity. When the beat and melody of the music interacts with this part of the brain, people begin to tap their feet. The part of the brain responsible for movement is also stirred instigating the listener to actively participate in the music. 

The movement that music incites us to make can also be a form of relaxation.  

RC Discusses Music Therapy

“Music is a form of meditation with open eyes and ears,” said RC Associate Professor of Psychology Robyn Siegel-Hinson.  The simple movements that occur when you are young and your tendency to tap the table to the beat when listening to your iTunes playlist shows how the rhythm and repetition of music contributes to the ability of music to calm us down.

Babies are rocked back and forth to calm them down, and people move their feet back and forth when they are anxious. These natural reactions reveal that “rhythmic repetitive movement calms and sooths us,” said Joni Lipson, a licensed psychotherapist. 

This explanation also correlates with music because songs have a rhythm and repetitive lyrics bringing the listener to a calmer state.

“If I’ve just had a long day and need to relax, I listen to slow music,” said Adedoyin Okanlawon, a senior psychology major.  

Songs allow listeners to be placed in an environment filled with soothing repetition letting them block out the distractions from the outside as well as internally. The repetition may seem subconscious to listeners, but this music in the background creates an internal balance.

The limbic system, also known as the emotional nervous system, demonstrates how music can influence our moods. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain and when music is played that makes you happy, a connection occurs between the amygdala and pleasure producing neurons in the brain, releasing dopamine.

As a result, the person listening to this type of music feels happy. Music’s interaction with the amygdala allows the sounds and beats to trigger the listener to express an emotion since the amygdala influences how you see and convey emotion.

Students also connect music to their moods demonstrating the powerful emotional impact of music.

“If I’m angry I might listen to heavy metal,” said Christian Carlisle, a senior English major. The music a person chooses will correlate with his or her emotional state of mind demonstrating a personal connection to songs and genres that is simple but profound.  

Many Rochester College students listen to music in order to reach a relaxed and calm state, preferring the genres instrumental, classical, jazz and R&B.  

“Quite a few genres help me relax, like instrumental, like classical, or kind of like a jazz feel,”  said Gabrielle Johnson, a sophomore soon to graduate with an Associates of Arts degree. 

Students also have a better chance of relaxing to music that they have heard before. “I can’t calm down to music that is new to me,” Okanlawon said.  The tone of the music is crucial to the song’s ability to make a person relax. Smooth and mellow tones create the best atmosphere for relaxation and in classical music, cellos, violins and pianos create these tones. 

The repeated impulse of RC students to turn to music in order to relax signifies music’s restorative qualities.

Music's Affect On Health  

Music’s ability to interact with our emotions and senses in order to calm us down has led to the creation of the field music therapy. Music therapy focuses on using “music interventions to accomplish individualized goals” within a therapy setting, according to the American Music Therapy Association.  Music is able to address cognitive, physical, social and psychological needs for all ages making this form of therapy a viable option for people dealing with depression or anxiety.

Psychologists continue to do research to see if listening and playing music may halt the spreading of dementia. One study, by Emory neuropsychologist Hanna Pladdy published in the Neuropsychology journal in 2011, reveals that musical instrument training even by amateurs can lead to cognitive benefits, such as better verbal memory function and a better visual perception of spatial relationships between objects. 

Listening to music and playing music is a psychological activity that contains many benefits and research continues on this subject.

Music is a daily part of our lives from listening to music on headphones between classes, listening to the radio once we get in the car, to hearing songs on TV commercials.  Yet, in these moments, even though you may not realize it,  the music causes your body to physically and emotionally relax.  Music is an element of humanity’s culture that is crucial to our emotional and physical well-being.  

As Carlisle said, “You have to have tunes in order to get through life.”