Escape To a World of Melody

Music is one of the few things which lives on forever, which inspires different meanings to different people, and has an undeniable influence on each person. You may hate a music, or love it, but you cannot be immune to it.

Music has always played a deep personal role since the discovery of civilizations, touching hearts, entertaining masses, influencing and inspiring people, filling up voids, uplifting moods, enlivening parties, and creating wonders across times and societies.

Just like the way the amazing Darrell Lance Abbott (the legendary American guitarist of the heavy metal bands Pantera and Damageplan of the 90’s, best known by his stage name Dimebag Darrell) sums it perfectly: “Music drives you. It wakes you up, it gets you pumping. And, at the end of the day, the correct tune will chill you down.”

There is no denying that Music is simply not an art, it is a power in itself; and one which can bring out the best in man if understood and applied rightly.

Musicology is an emerging study as the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music and not concentrated on mastering the art itself. Musicology traditionally belong to the humanities department, although some music research is scientific in focus- that is it focuses on the psychological, sociological, acoustical, neurological, and computational influence of music amongst others. It concerns more on the impact and influence of music rather that it’s creation.

More and more research and study in this field is emphasizing on the amazing healing power of music in treating stress and several mental issues afflicting humans that were earlier considered dire situations. Conditions like depression, Alzheimer’s, amnesia, insomnia and so on have found a solution and a respite in music. Infact, In many cases music has shown better results than medication.

Oliver Sacks, best-selling author and professor of neurology at NYU School Of Medicine says, “Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more – it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”

Stress is one such problem that is very underrated. We ignore stress and it’s impact on us individually to an extent that it gnaws away at our confidence and capacity inwardly and silently. It affects our skill and motivation, can make us irritable, create relationship issues and even lead us to depression. Yet we tend to simply recognise it as an obvious by-product of our lifestyle choices and situation, and assume it will pass away on its own. But it is only seldom that this route works. Oftentimes stress builds internally overtime and negatively changes our attitude and personality till it morphs into a bigger psychological issue. It has a biological impact that causes our body to release specific hormones and chemicals that activate our brain in certain ways. For example, when we are highly stressed, our heart rate and blood pressure can go up, and our adrenal gland begins producing cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone.”

Short term, cortisol can help us find the focus and energy we need to deal with a difficult situation, but when the body is exposed to excess cortisol for a prolonged period of time, it causes perpetual, exhausting states of fight, flight, or freeze. Ongoing or chronic stress can lead to developing an anxiety disorder, depression, chronic pain, and more. Therefore, it is really important for our own well-being that we never ignore stress and take little every day steps to counter it and free our mind of its clutches.

One very relatable example of the extent stress can affect us is the case of Queen Elsa from Disney’s animation blockbuster “Frozen”. In the movie we are introduced to the little princess as a sweet, sensible and playful child whose life turns upside down by a little accident, and the ensuing chain of events along with the gradual building of tension and stress over the years turn her into a hyper-sensitive, inwardly scared, lonesome and terribly anxious person for whom a small trigger blew up into a enormous storm.

How many of us could relate to her instantly because somewhere deep down inside we were all fighting a storm? And how many of us loved her despite her flaws and failures? And the song that set her free! “Let it go!” it became a sensation for years to come and came as not just Elsa’s stress-buster and her respite, it touched a special cord in our heart. This is the power of music I am speaking about. Power to reduce stress, power to conquer fear, power to inspire confidence.

According to a research titled “Effects of music interventions on stress-related outcomes: a systematic review and two meta-analyses” published in Health Psychology Review- Volume 14, 2020, listening to music can:

lower our heart rate and cortisol levels,

release endorphins and improve our sense of well-being.

distract us, reducing physical and emotional stress levels.

reduce stress-related symptoms, whether used in a clinical environment or in daily life.

listening to music also increases cognitive functions, creativity, and decreases feelings of fatigue.

According to the same research, the implications for casual listeners are also great; it has shown that the pleasurable feelings associated with emotional music are the result of dopamine release in the striatum—the same anatomical areas that underpin the anticipatory and rewarding aspects of drug addiction. It further states that, listening to music has been found to affect the mood of an individual. The main factors whether it will affect that individual positively or negatively are based on the music’s tempo and style.

According to another research article titled, “The perceived benefits of singing” by S. Clift, G. Hancox Published 1 December 2001 in the “Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health”, Two exploratory studies were reported on the perceived benefits associated with active participation in choral singing.

In the first study, 84 members of a university college choral society completed a brief questionnaire that asked whether they had benefited personally from their involvement in the choir and whether there were ways in which participation could benefit their health. A large majority of respondents agreed they had benefited socially (87%) and emotionally (75%), with 58% agreeing they had benefited in some physical way, and 49% spiritually.

In the second study, 91 members of the choir completed a structured questionnaire consisting of 32 statements about singing reflecting the ideas expressed in the first study. Over 40% of respondents strongly agreed that ‘singing helps to make my mood more positive’, ‘singing is a moving experience for me sometimes’, ‘singing makes me feel a lot happier’ and ‘singing is good for my soul’.

A principal components analysis followed by Oblimin rotation identified six dimensions of benefit associated with singing. These were labelled as:

benefits for well-being and relaxation,

benefits for breathing and posture,

social benefits,

spiritual benefits,

emotional benefits, and

benefits for heart and immune system.

So what type of music reduces stress the best? The answer is individual based. For some, Sufi works like magic, for some it is classical, for some soft music soothes like balm, for some it can even be Rock. A bit surprising is that Native American, Celtic, Indian stringed-instruments, drums, and flutes are very effective at relaxing the mind even when played moderately loud. Even the natural sounds of rain, thunder, flowing river and nature sounds may also be relaxing.

The British Academy of Sound Therapy set out to create the world’s most relaxing song. In collaboration with the Manchester band Marconi Union, the song “Weightless” was born. The researchers saw a reduction in overall anxiety to be as much as 65 percent. The study also added in a few more tracks for comparison.

Lyz Cooper, founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, explained “Sound therapy has been used for thousands of years to help people relax and improve health and well-being. Music was at the heart of healing and worship among indigenous cultures.”

Meditation is another important tool used by mankind to handle stress since time immemorial. It is an ancient tradition, practiced in cultures all over the world and is an integral part of some religions and types of yoga. There are many types of mediation, and people use some types to help treat stress, mental and physical health conditions. The therapeutic power of meditation is unquestionable and many have found their outlet through it. And, the connection between music and meditation too is well established. Music has often accompanied meditation sessions and worked wonders in its outcome. People have claimed to feel more spiritually enlightened, relaxed and more inspired after a music-induced meditation session.

There are many popular and timeless masterpieces of music from legends like Mozart, Beethoven, Indian classic and cross culture classics that are heralded as tonic for the soul and their effect on reducing stress works like magic.

Some of the acclaimed works in this regard are:

Morning Mood by the modern minimalist Norwegian composer Grieg,

Primavera by the Italian composer-pianist Einaudi,

Air on the G String by the legendary J. S. Bach,

Sonata by J.S. Bach

Clarinet Concerto by Mozart

Roja (musical) by A. R. Rahman

At the end of the day, it is our choice of activity which will help us fight our stress. To each it is different. For some, it can be reading a book, for some walking down the beach or their favourite spot in a park, for some going on a long drive, for some it can be yoga or meditation, and for some simply sitting down with a hot bowl of soup or their favourite cup of coffee/tea. But whatever is our choice, it is always made better with music. A favourite symphony playing in the background is all it takes to free our mind and soul.

So, take your pick and melt your stress away!

by Asma Ferdoes