Music: It’s More Powerful Than You Know
The Power of Music
Many suns and moons ago, our earliest ancestors began identifying what would come to be called musical tones, or notes. The song of a bird, wind blowing through the trees, a person’s whistling — these were intriguing sounds, very different from the ones made when talking (or grunting). In time, we began to be familiar with the tones we heard all around us and eventually developed the musical scale of 12 distinct notes.
Why is all this so important? Because when notes are combined in certain ways, they can have a noticeable impact on our emotions. Volumes of medical research might give us a clue as to why this is, but we don’t need any research to know how we feel when we hear certain songs or styles of music.
Major chords sound bright and lively; minor chords sound doomy and gloomy.
Can Music Really “Soothe the Savage Beast”?
We’ve all heard this saying before. It’s more symbolic than literal, indicating that a person who is stressed out or angry can be settled by music. Have you ever experienced the “savage beast” of sadness only to listen to a favorite old song and, before you knew it, felt happy and back to your old self?
The word “music” in that savage-beast saying is deceiving, however. Not just any music will cause a flood of joy and happiness to wash over you — and not even the right kind of music will accomplish this 100 percent of the time. But if you want to go with the odds, heavy, abrasive music by rock bands like Metallica, for example, probably isn’t the best choice for transforming sadness into glee. So, what would be good music to bring a smile to your face? We’ll look at some suggestions, but first let’s understand how combinations of notes, lyrics and nostalgic impressions can affect human emotions.
Minors and Majors, In Brief
Without getting overly musically technical, basic musical chords are made up of three out of 12 possible notes. Depending on the configuration of these three notes, chords are produced that we label as “major” or “minor.” Major chords sound bright and lively; minor chords sound doomy and gloomy. Whether or not your conscious mind understands the technicalities of music theory and structure, your inner system clearly recognizes the difference between major and minor chords. Generally, songs written in a minor key have a heaviness about them and can lead to somber thinking. Songs in a major key can foster a sense of optimism, power and, yes, happiness.
Lyrics and Nostalgia Factors
Even songs in the most depressive minor keys can be taken positively if the listener finds comfort and motivation in the lyrics. Words are powerful — powerful enough to override musical themes. In the reverse, melancholy lyrics over an upbeat musical arrangement can bring about dark thoughts and sadness. In every case, feelings derived from a song’s lyrics will depend on how the individual listener interprets the overall piece of music.
Another type of song that can get you up and running is a tune from your past to which you’ve attached a great deal of positive emotion. Hearing the song again can take you on a nostalgic trip back to a better, simpler time, no matter what kind of music or lyrics it’s made up of.
Hearing a song from your past can take you on a nostalgic trip back to a better, simpler time.
Some Happy Songs
According to Dutch cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Jacob Jolij, certain popular songs have been scientifically proven to be “happy songs.” Here are his top 10 picks:
- “Don’t Stop Me Now” (Queen)
- “Dancing Queen” (ABBA)
- “Good Vibrations” (The Beach Boys)
- “Uptown Girl” (Billy Joel)
- “Eye of the Tiger” (Survivor)
- “I’m a Believer” (The Monkees)
- “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (Cyndi Lauper)
- “Livin’ on a Prayer” (Bon Jovi)
- “I Will Survive” (Gloria Gaynor)
- “Walking on Sunshine” (Katrina and The Waves)
How can you get more of this happy music into your life? You can create a playlist of go-to happy songs on streaming services like Pandora or Spotify. You can even go old school and burn a CD. Any of the 10 above would be a good start, and then you can add others as you remember or come across them. However you do it, you’ll have at your fingertips a powerful arsenal of happy music — all built from specific combinations of notes, lyrics and memories — that can lift your spirits anytime you need a pick-me-up. Try it for a month and see what happens.