“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest of times, and to the latest.”
The above quote are the words of Henry David Thoreau who illustrated how music, in its most simple form, serves as a bridge from one soul to another, spanning the divides so evident in the world and allowing the individual to transcend even time itself. Now, obviously this all sounds extremely philosophical, but it doesn’t distract from the fact that music, scientifically, is the basis of many emotional and physical responses that better enhances the human experience, whether that be relationally, spiritually, or intellectually.
UC Berkeley scientists conducted a study in January that supports the notion that the human brain, when listening to different genres of music, can evoke at least 13 different emotions. These emotions range from sacred to sad, angry to happy, inspired to amused- which all highlight how versatile a tool music can become. Alan Cowen, one of the lead professors on the case study, explains music as a sort of universal language that doesn’t belong to any one group of people. Instead it is an experience available to each and every individual, in an overwhelmingly similar, yet utterly unique way. The way you and I experience music might be entirely different from how other people experience music, whether that be our friends and family or people all the way across the world.
Physicality too, is an aspect of music, for in 2017 in the academic journal titled Frontiers in Neuroscience, the effects of music patterns and rhythms on the condition of the heart was investigated. Cardiovascular dynamics are very attuned to the human body’s experience of emotions so when music, structured in a certain dramatic way, is played it evokes a response from not only the mind but the body as well. Music, though, is certainly subjective, and while it might incite a particular reaction from one person, it is not necessarily given that it would evoke a similar response in another. This aspect of music, however, is part of its beauty, for this conclusion means that each individual is experiencing something unique and special to them. The words, rhythms, and structures remain the same, yet, like Cowen commented above about music being a universal language, music possesses the amazing ability to speak and be heard differently to every ear.
Now, what does this actually mean, in terms of the bigger picture? Why does music matter and how does it allow us to better understand one another? Ultimately, understanding our own emotions and the emotions we feel when listening to music allows us to more fully comprehend the message behind a certain song or artist. Music isn’t something haphazard, it’s thoughtful and intentional, so it makes sense that our emotional and physical response should be equally complex. For, just as Thoreau commented, music suspends us in time, pulls us out of the reach of our problems, and allows us to see more clearly. So, next time you are listening to music, take a moment to reflect, and try to understand how the artist is attempting to make you feel, and more importantly- why?
Yasmin Anwar, Media Relations| January 6, and Yasmin Anwar. “Ooh Là Là! Music
Evokes at Least 13 Emotions. Scientists Have Mapped Them.” Berkeley News, 15 Jan.
Schaefer, Hans-Eckhardt. “Music-Evoked Emotions-Current Studies.” Frontiers in
Neuroscience, Frontiers Media S.A., 24 Nov. 2017,
Photo Credit: Bravo Waukegan