Music can motivate, stimulate, calm, and help focus our energies on a specific goal — whether it be physical training or just soaking in a particular emotion. In fact, music creates a full mind-body experience that we can use to enhance or even change our moods.
It’s no coincidence that music played in a coffee shop tends to be modern and familiar (John Mayer or Norah Jones), but with lighter timbres and slower tempos. Basically pleasant, because it’s stress-reducing and stimulates the left frontal lobe where we do most of our thought-processing.
If a local coffee shop played techno music instead, you might not find the atmosphere conducive to working on a laptop. Or, if they played sappy pop love songs (too much cloying isn’t a good thing) that may not help you to be mindfully present.
A familiar song can also have that effect, where you can’t help but hum along to the lyrics you know. And a heavier music beat awakens a sleepy mind, while a faster tempo can get our hearts pumping.
Then when it’s bedtime, you can opt for softer, meditative music to relax and help you fall asleep.
But what’s behind the magic of music therapy, exactly?
It’s not surprising that modern music therapy has been used to lower anxiety and depression and was notably used to heal trauma survivors after World War II.
Music therapy is based on science and nature. When we listen to varying music frequencies, our brain waves are psychologically impacted. You may have heard of the Delta wave, prized as the sleep brain wave. And Theta waves are our relaxation waves.
When we listen to sounds and music at a 432 hertz (Hz) frequency, also known as the soothing Mother Earth vibration, we can feel calmer and maybe even get an emotional goosebump here and there.
One study on this was with dental surgery patients put under light sedation. When they had headphones on listening to 432 Hz binaural beats or music, they experienced less dental anxiety.
Curious what the beats sound like?
Binaural beat sound sample
Classical music 432 Hz sample
Today, music therapy continues to stimulate mood, emotions, and mental health progress. In self-care, if you need an instant pick-me-up, music is a good choice. Singing in the shower and playing an instrument, if that’s your jam, also helps.
Daily mood swings can easily be affected by your sleep, activities, people triggers, and what you ate in the past 24 hours. You can use music to even out your moods, whether you need a spicy or calming dose.
If you start to feel lethargic or off your game after weeks or months of going nonstop at work, that’s a sign you could be burning yourself out and need a reset. You’re smart to pause, observe, and look for hidden cues and rest opportunities.
You can use music to help you transition to a brighter season, altering daily moods that affect your energy levels and actions.
Next time you’re in a mind-body imbalance, listen to the harmony of a modern saxophone. And if you play complementing heavy rain, crackling fire sounds, or a piano playing, that can elevate your experience to where you can get dreamy or feel romantic.
Nostalgic or wanderlust-type feelings can help you feel renewed, calm, and creative.
Give a light-sounding piece like the one below a test-drive:
If you’re feeling bored or stuck, try listening to classical Baroque violin music or Mozart (at 432 Hz) to stir up some creativity.
And if you’re having some undesirable symptoms like heart palpitations, nervous stomach, annoyance, irritated-anger, or you can’t shake off lethargy, then give these music genres a listen:
Think light jazz with orchestral instruments to manage annoyance or irritation and feelings of anger, such as the following three examples:
And no-rhythmic pattern Enya music to calm anxious heart palpitations. See how this music type lands for you next time you’re feeling anxious.
(Based on your preferences, you can substitute with these similar nonrhythmic effect music types: Celtic, Chamber music, Crystal or Tibetan singing bowl).
And on the other end, listen to heavier (rhythmic) drum beats, or Santana-heavy guitar riffs to wake up a sleepy mind. Like these:
Sometimes we don’t know what it is we’re feeling, or what mood music will help. But your mind and body are intuitive and can tell you faster what you’re experiencing by natural preferences than you’d be able to describe with words.
Say someone cuts you off in traffic or does something to offend you. Your immediate emotions can be mixed and confused (without time to process). If you’re more on the irritated side, something like instrumental or classical music might not have the same effects as when you’re feeling anxious.
The same is true if you’re feeling a tired mood (imbalance). Your first instinct might be to shut off heavy, motivational music that’s giving you a new headache.
Instead of always going with the genre or style of music you think might help, listen to your body’s natural reactions. It will tell you what it’s really connecting with in the moment.
Music therapy is a great way to balance your life, moods, and “heal” your mind and body to live your best life. And if you’re around someone with a salty mood, suggest a bit of music therapy to them. It can go a long way toward helping them to release stress, refocus, and brighten things up.
In the end we all want to be happy and get a natural high from good music as often as we can. And a happy oldie like Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” shows that he was on to something.