Your Feelings and Music: Does Musical Awareness Impact Emotional Understanding?

musical awarenessListening to music is often an emotional experience. You can certainly see the emotional impact of music on TV and in movies. Movies and television use music to let us know when a dramatic scene is occurring. Music might induce joy and hope: think of The Rainbow Connection in The Muppet Movie, determination and excitement: Eye of the Tiger from Rocky 3 or complicated feelings such as sadness, despair, calm or acceptance: The Sound of Silence at the end of the movie The Graduate.

Off the screen, music can continue to affect our emotions. A favorite song can remind us of summertime and evoke feelings from the past. The music played at a spa is designed to help you unwind and feel calm, while music at a club can make you feel excited and joyful and want to get up and dance.

Many psychological therapies, including DBT, suggest the use of music as a means of managing intense and overwhelming emotions. What music you use and how you use it is individual, but music can be used to calm a mood or alter a painful feeling.

In music therapy, music is used not just to change feelings, but to tap into a universal and nonverbal experience. Interventions might include creating music, listening to music, discussing evoked thoughts, feelings, and emotions - or using music for relaxation and meditation techniques.

There is a wide body of research on music therapy and whether music is an effective method of altering emotions and gaining better understanding of your own emotional experience. For example, in a recent article in Emotion, researchers found that musical expertise enhances your ability to recognize emotion expressed in speech. We all express emotion, not just in the content of our speech, but also in the words that we stress and our tone of voice. This study found that people trained in music were better able to pick up on emotional features of speech. With a better ability to distinguish emotions, people with musical training have a enhanced understanding of the emotions conveyed in speech.

Many of us overlook the impact that music can have on our emotional experience. We view it as background to our lives, but fail to see music as a tool to help us improve our ability to relax, alter painful feelings or communicate and understand others.

Photo by Shaun Dunphy, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

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