Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier (24)” streams at 29 percent volume while I write this. My go-to writing music, Baroque, floats wave-like above and below my consciousness, simultaneously soothing and awakening. It’s not, however, my meditation music with softer acoustics, like pan flute and piano.
How does music work its magic on us?
Whether we meditate, ruminate or activate, the best tunes for each depend on the beat, structure, instruments, volume and lyrics.
The beat determines the emotional-brain connection. So, in choosing the right song for a relaxing mood, first consider its pace. Music with close to 60 beats a minute synchronizes the brain with the beat, creating alpha brainwaves—the same waves syncing during our relaxed awake state.
Slower, more patterned music steadies and calms the listener. Classical fugues and rondos (think “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Frère Jacques”) to two-step country slow songs with refrains and repeating phrases cover this range. Obviously faster-paced, drum-pounding songs invigorate.
However, not just patterns but “soft” instruments induce more meditative, calming moods. That’s why New Age music—intended to inspire—often features acoustic guitars and piano, Andean or Native American flutes, sitars and other non-Western acoustic instruments. It’s meant to soothe.
Electronic New Age music aims to do the same through software sequencers and synth pads that simulate nature or traditional instrument sounds. Contrarily, loud electric guitars, basses and synthesizers fill rock and many other foot-stomping, hip-swivelling and head-banging genres meant to encourage you to move your body and uplift your mood.
Music moves our hearts and minds
Jane Collingwood’s “The Power of Music to Reduce Stress,” confirms music’s therapeutic qualities. The right kind of music, especially used with biofeedback and visualization, reduces stress in people who are:
- Hospital patients
- Terminally ill
The brain’s non-verbal stimuli processing registers music and helps us release emotions. Whether we’re playing, singing or listening, music enables release, creativity and awareness of our thoughts and feelings.
Music—of our preferred genre(s)—especially helps us with meditation, keeping the monkey mind in check.
Though music is indisputably beneficial, there’s no accounting for taste. Our musical preferences are subjective, so for any occasion, the choice depends on style. In other words, one person’s meditation music may drive another up the wall screaming.
The power of performance
Science tells us that playing music also reduces stress that accumulates and infects the body’s cells. Prolonged stress may lead to anger and depression, and eventually to illness.
Playing an instrument or just fooling around with sounds on electronic pianos, synthesizers, kids’ musical toys or software applications is a great way to disrupt the stress response. The key is to just play without getting too uptight about it, because learning to play an instrument can be complicated and thus stressful.
Barry Bittman, MD of WebMD suggests using digital keyboards, playing by ear and practicing as a permanent lifestyle addition to keep stress in check. But if you do want to pick up the guitar or piano, for instance, there are so many instructional YouTube videos that teach the basic chords to a variety of songs. And there’s no shortage of advice, buying guides, rating systems and lists on how to choose your instrument, amplifiers and software—all your accessories and devices.
One site, peering into the future of musical instruments, features five unusual “instruments” that are mostly tactile devices capable of simulating traditional instrumental sounds through hand manipulation: tapping, typing, sliding, and swiping. You could start your own band!
When my kids were around 6 or 7 years old, I bought them tambourines, maracas, drums and ukuleles to play, and they formed “bands” with friends. The joy of presence and connection, even among the cacophony of banging, shaking and intoning, was palpable. I had to join in.
When they got older, those $10 maracas turned into expensive Fender guitars and amplifiers. They still play, mostly to fool around, commune with friends, and procrastinate from homework. But they play. It’s meditation. It’s cathartic.
Music soothes the savage beast
Public places pump your ears with music to make you shop, eat or play. Business knows the power of music to manipulate mind and mood.
Practicing yoga and meditation to peaceful music for years now, I just hear Jai Uttal and my body relaxes. I’m conditioned like one of Pavlov’s dogs. And it’s good!
How does music move you to mindfulness? Let us know in the Comments section below!