September 2017 | University of Evansville


A deeper look into how music connects us, makes us feel certain emotions and the impact it has on our surroundings.

There is very little we do in life that doesn’t involve music. Most of us can’t study without our favorite tunes floating into our ears. Some of us wake up to music blaring from an alarm clock and keep it playing as we shower. 

Music also guides many of us into sleep, and what would driving be like if we didn’t have music to sing-along to? A social event wouldn’t be a social event without music. And many of us don’t think twice when shelling out big bucks to go listen to a favorite band. 

The power of music is amazing. It can bring people together no matter where they are and keep them together long after last call. This connection has been occuring since notes were first played. And it is not a coincidence. There are a number of psychological and physical reasons why music has impacted our cultures and our lives for centuries. 

Everyone knows what it is like to have a rough day and by the end of it, all we want is a chance to relax. Listening to music makes this possible. It allows us to deal with daily stress and to sort through our mess of emotions. Jaley Montgomery, visiting assistant professor of music therapy, said that while we are not all affected by the same music, we all feel something by listening. 

“Music is a unique way of reaching people and has a way of striking a chord in all of us,” she said. “It’s personal and it speaks to us, no matter who we are.” 

We use music like we do clothes: as a way to express ourselves to the world and establish our identity. As we become more comfortable with ourselves, it is easier to connect with others. 

When we hear a song we really like, we feel the need to express it. Whether it is by going to a concert and screaming when a certain song is played or popping into a neighbor’s room to sing-along when someone is blasting one of your favorite songs, we find ways to express ourselves and let others know how we feel. 

In normal situations, it can be hard to walk up to someone new and talk to them, but music has a way of breaking boundaries. It can bring people together, even if they would normally never notice one another. Robert Shelby, assistant professor of sociology, calls this a freeing experience. 

“It’s one of the mechanisms that builds social cohesion,” he said. “It draws people together despite vast differences.” 

Besides helping us with connections, music can also change our mood. When we are in a certain mood, we listen to something that represents that, like instrumental when we are feeling tired. Shelby said that it is a two-way street; music can put a person in a specific mood, but their mood can affect the way they hear the music. 

“We’re the variable that’s changing,” he said. “Depending on our circumstances, music changes how it affects us.” 

Music can change us in physical ways as well. Montgomery said that our bodies mimic the beat of music through a process called entrainment. This can change our heart rate, breathing, even the rhythm in our walk as we listen to different songs. 

It is almost completely subconscious, but when you walk past stores that have music playing, we change our pace and the sway of our hips. Next time you head to the mall, watch the people as they pass the doors and you will notice the difference. 

Jamming out to your favorite songs can also help tune up your memory, verbal and recall skills. And it is not because of the artist’s talent; it is because music lights up both hemispheres of the brain like a Christmas tree. The process of both sides being active at the same time is rare as not many things can do this. 

With the brain brighter than Times Square at night, the hippocampus, or the long-term storage of the brain, gets a workout. At the same time, it releases the happy chemicals serotonin and dopamine. It is a good bet that this is what causes us to relate certain songs and memories. 

Everyone has at least one song that makes them remember and smile as they listen. It could be the one you heard during high school graduation or the one playing during your first kiss. Either way, your brain has connected the two and can have you recalling the memory, even to the point 

of smell. Unfortunately, it does not matter if it is a good or bad memory. 

It is obvious that listening to music has many benefits and is a big part of people’s lives. As always, popular culture recognizes this and jumps on it. When producers figure out what people want to hear, they milk the style and create new songs based on this. 

“Pop culture is a machine and is constantly churning out content,” Shelby said. “It’s been following the same formula since its inception.” 

No matter how hard it tries, popular culture does not completely dictate what we listen to, but we always find a reason to listen and there are many factors that help us decide on the genre to play. The most obvious factor is personal choice: we listen to it because it is what we want to listen to. 

But, our personal choice is not based on just ourselves: the people around us have an influence. We all have that one friend who insists we listen to a new song that he or she loves, even when it is nothing like the rest of the music we listen to. Being exposed to different genres and how available they are helps us choose one that we enjoy. 

With streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, it has never been easier to discover new music. Before the magical invention of these services, people many times listened to whatever their parents listened to since it was the only music they had been introduced to.

But once we gave ourselves permission to explore, we discovered many different genres. All that matters now is that we have an Internet connection and we can explore what we want whenever we want. 

With access available everywhere, it is not surprising that we see people enjoying music all over campus — whether it is someone walking to class wearing Beats headphones or a group that hauls speakers out to the Ridgway Center lawn and plays music as they play Frisbee.

And we all play our favorite playlists at different times, like when we are studying or sometimes when we go to sleep. But sometimes our choice of music can hinder us. For most, it can be hard to write a paper when listening to certain types of music, such as rap or heavy metal. Junior Justin Morrison said this is why he listens to instrumental music while doing schoolwork, as it allows him to listen without getting distracted by the lyrics.

“It’s good to listen to something with beat,” he said. “Something with groove to it.”

Music is defined as an art form whose medium is sound organized in time. The common elements are pitch, rhythm and dynamics. It is easy to forget that it has evolved from many genres over the years.

Genres like rock ‘n’ roll, pop and reggae were all popular at different times and helped develop other genres, changing music history. When we think about the history of music, most think of modern music festivals or large orchestras, but music was already a part of the world long before mass gatherings like this were popular.

There is evidence of music as far back as 35,000 years ago in the form of bone flutes and cave paintings. It is ridiculous to imagine a group of cavemen getting together for the sole purpose of listening to a good 

flute, but it shows that music has always had a way to pull people together. Music has been loved and appreciated throughout its history. 

While the love we have for music has not changed, how we make it certainly has. Besides all of the different genres, instruments have gradually been evolving. Now, most music is made using computers, soundboards and other digital equipment. 

The use of computers in creating music has been around for a while, but now there are new programs that are replacing the old. The use of soundboards has skyrocketed, mainly because of how easy it is to use and the way the music sounds. With a soundboard, you can include sound effects or clips into your music. 

With such amazing possibilities, it is no wonder that people have always been fascinated by music. And the future possibilities are endless. Who knows what it will sound like in the decades to come? 

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A deeper look into how music connects us, makes us feel certain emotions and the impact it has on our surroundings.


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