Why do we actually listen to music? You can answer this question in an evolutionary way but that is not that interesting for our everyday behavior. Why do we as unique human beings, listen to music?
One important thing about music is that it is able to change our mood. We all know that one song that makes us happy. This can be from the tempo, the high pitch and major scale that most ‘happy’ songs have. Moreover songs can give us a nostalgic feeling when it reminds us of happy times; like summer, vacation, parties and being in love with someone. Music however, can also makes us feel sad. Think about ‘9 Crimes’ by Damien Rice and ‘Say Something’ by A Great Big World. Why would you listen to music when it makes you feel sad however? Some academics say that the sadness in music is ‘safe’. Just like a sad movie we watch, we know that it is not real and thereby it has no danger for us. This sad music can also feel like being understood by someone else and that is why it can give us some calmness in the struggles we have.
Talking about struggles; music can reduces stress too. In combination with the mood manipulation, listening music is a helpful thing to do before an important event where you are nervous for! If you pick your own favorite music, the sounds you hear will make you feel safe and calm. And that is the real reason behind the ‘Mozart Effect’. People who came up with this notion were sure that music (from eg Mozart) made us smarter and thereby we do better on cognitive tests. What other researchers did found however is that music increases our arousal level and this makes us better in cognitive abilities like making an exam.
Music can also be used to distract our self from the world around us. With headphones on our head, we do not hear the busy world around us and we can focus on the music we listen to. From minutes to hours we can listen to the sounds we hear and not focus on problems we have. We can identify our self with the music we listen to; whether it is jazz, metal or soul; it let us be who we want without the world to interfere. That is why people with anxiety or depressed symptoms may use music to feel ‘free’ for a moment.
Music can be used for many positive effects, but we should not think about it like it is something magical. The feelings we have from music are mainly based on memory. Music is a distraction from the world around us; like many hobbies are.