Yesterday afternoon I took a moment and sat outside in the sun with a mug of tea and a few magazines. As I relaxed on my purple chair outside my front door and watched the life on my street unfold, I flicked through the National Geographic and Psychologies reading about lost languages and how to be a better me.
I had my CD player on and as blues, jazz and chansons drifted through my open window my feet tapped in time and a smile settled on my lips. As serendipity would have it my eyes flitted across an article aptly named “Music to your ears”.
It told me all about the effect music has on the brain, particularity the reward-center, giving us joy and sometimes even making the hairs on the back of our necks stand up. Music helps us access emotions, even ones that we keep buried deep within us. So it doesn’t really seem surprising that we prefer happy songs when we are in a good mood and sad ones when we are upset, especially because it takes more mental effort to listen to joyous songs when we feel a little blue. Surprisingly sad music triggers the production of prolactin in our brains, a chemical that we produce to give us a mental hug, so when we are feeling low the blues really does make us feel better.
Like smells and images, music can remind us of the past, lets us relive moments and experiences in our lives. This is why we especially love the music we listened to when we where in our teens and early twenties, the most formative time in our lives.
And then of course certain songs may remind us of people, like listening to Jonny Cash’s “Burnning Ring of Fire” reminds me of when I was 5-6, dancing around to the song and singing all the lyrics. with my sister. Or “I’ll tell my Ma” by the Dubliners makes me think of my daddy singing it to my baby brother making him giggle. Or The Bangles “Eternal Flame” takes me back to kissing my first love with butterflies fluttering in my stomach.
But no matter what song makes you feel what emotion no one really knows why music does what is does, why it can make us react the way we do. Maybe that is the magic of music, we all have our own tunes that our hearts beat to and our own rhythm our feet dance to. As Leo Tolstoy said so wonderfully:
Music is the shorthand of emotion