When You’re Feeling Down, Get Down! Sound and Music to Boost Your Mood

“…music occupies more areas of our brain than language does – humans are a musical species” – Oliver Sacks

Sound is such a powerful vehicle for eliciting and communicating human emotion. In this post I will talk about how, as a sound therapist and therapeutic music composer, I use sound and music to boost your mood, enhance mood state and help improve health and wellbeing.

Music and Emotion

There is enormous interest in how music stimulates and evokes emotional responses. Justlin and Sloboda, prominent researchers in the field of music and emotion believe that the main reason that we listen to music is to influence our emotions.[1]

Listening to music involves so many different neural processes – many more than we give ourselves (or Mother Nature) credit for, we really are extremely clever biological machines!  For starters, the sound stimuli (what we are hearing) has to be processed by the ear which means transforming pressure waves into neural signals. These signals then stimulate the release of different neurotransmitters and hormones which can give rise to many different emotions, affect the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (raising and lowering heart, rate, blood pressure and stress responses) and even boost the immune system.[2]

One of the most interesting emotional responses to music or sound will be one that is familiar to most of us.  Known as ‘frisson’, ‘chills’ or ‘goosebumps’, it feels like waves running up and down the arms and the hairs on your arms may stand on end.  This is a sign that Dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward is being released[3].  I talk about frisson in a lot more depth in my blog post ‘Great Expectations’ but in a nutshell, when you are feeling low choose pieces of music give you the goosebumps and you will give yourself a mood-enhancing boost.

Listen to Music to Enhance your Mood 

  • Lyrical content – choose tracks that have inspiring and uplifting lyrics
  • Tempo – choose a piece with a faster tempo – aim for 120+ beats per minute
  • Mode – pieces in a major key tend to be thought of as uplifting
  • Range, pitch and volume (dynamics) – a piece that rises and falls in pitch and volume can be incredibly uplifting and create frisson. Modern dance music is just one example of the way dynamic range is used, but you can find many different pieces out there if you’re not into dance music

To Sum Up

Music and sound has been used for tens of thousands of years to boost emotions and when we come together to make and share music we get even more of a boost.  Any time you are feeling down, plug in, get down and sound yourself smiling!

[1] Juslin, P. N. & Sloboda, J. A (2011). Handbook of Music and Emotion, Theory, Research, Applications. Oxford: Oxford University Press

[2] Huron & Margulis in Juslin & Sloboda (2011 p.598-600)

[3] Colver, M & El-Alayli, A (2015) Getting aesthetic chills from music: The connection between openness to experience and frisson

[4] Costa. M, Bitti, P, Bonfiglioli. L (2000) Psychological Connotations of Harmonic Musical Intervals Psychology of Music 28:4 pp.5 – 22

Further Reading

Bidelman. G, and Krishnan. A (2009), Neural Correlates of Consonance, Dissonance, and the Hierarchy of Music Pitch in the Human Brainstem, The Journal of Neuroscience, 29 (42): 13165 – 13171

Fritz. T, Jentschke. S, Gosselin. N, Sammler. D, Peretz. I, Turner. R, Frederici. A, Koelsch. S (2009) Universal Recognition of Three Basic Emotions in Music, Current Biology, 19 pp.573-576

Janke, L. (2008) Music, Memory and Emotion, Journal of Biology, 7:21

Koole. S (2009) The psychology of emotion regulation: An integrative view, Cognition and Emotion Vol 23/1 pp.4-41

Schulkind. M, Hennis. L, Rbuin, D. (1999), Music, emotion and autobiographical memory: They’re playing your song. Memory and Cogntition 27:6, pp.948-955