Last night I went to see my friend Bella play a live gig on the terrace of a lovely restaurant. My table was on the corner of the patio area where the band was performing. As I sat back to enjoy the music I experienced a moment of utter happiness. I looked up at a full moon, I felt the soft touch of a summer breeze across my face and the sounds of the music made my spirit feel perfectly uplifted.
The energy of the music was upbeat and joyous. Nick’s skilled fingers moved over his guitar with the tenderness of a lover; Ollie’s trumpet tones were sensuous and rich; Martin’s drum matched the rhythm of a heart-beat; Ray wove into the music with a medley of percussion instruments; Glyn’s enthusiasm was infectious as he danced to the beat of his claves and Bella’s vocals soared like an angel. It was sublime.
After the first set I got chatting with Glyn and he told me how music had changed his life and how making music made him feel alive and happy. As I watched the musicians perform their second set, this feeling of happiness was tangible. There was no doubt in my mind that music can lift our spirits, but as I went on to discover, science has also revealed the very positive physical effects that it can have on our bodies.
In an online article by Martha Robert, award-winning UK health writer and mental health blogger, she noted that uplifting music has the power to soothe both our nervous and limbic systems. She also highlighted research on heart disease patients which found that certain types of music can help reduce blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. This notion was supported by Dr Yuna Ferguson who noted that: “People were successful at raising their positive mood as long as the music they listened to was happy and upbeat.”
A German research team found that listening to “pleasant music” boosted levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for giving you good feelings and, strangely enough, regulating your bowel movements!
Participating in making music with a group can also increase our happiness. Researcher Päivi-Sisko Eerola, in her study on how extended music education can increase the quality of school life, noted that pupils who took singing classes reported higher satisfaction in almost every area of school life. “Synchronising” with each other may “even make people like each other more than before.”
So how can we benefit from music on a daily basis?
Right now, we could stop what we are doing, turn on the radio and enthusiastically join in with whatever song is playing! Or maybe we could seek out a well-loved tune in our music collection and give our vocal chords a glorious work-out!
Over the next week, we could also add music into our exercise regimes. Listening to music during exercise can help to release endorphins to increase our endurance, boost our mood and distract us from the discomfort we might feel during an exercise session. For an effective, beneficial workout, researchers say the best music is high energy, high tempo music such as hip hop or dance. And for that post workout stretch, classical music, such as pieces by Mozart or Beethoven, can help relieve muscle pain.
If like my niece, you are amidst the stress of studying for exams, music could also help get your brain in gear. Studies found that students who listened to a one-hour lecture where classical music was played in the background scored significantly higher in a quiz on the lecture when compared to a similar group of students who heard the lecture with no music.
And if you are truly inspired by your ventures into music consider joining a choir, learning to play an instrument or heading out to your local Karaoke night! Experts found that if we actively engage with the music – feeling it rather than letting it simply be in the background – it can give us an extra emotional boost and make us feel super happy.