Music: A Cure for the Human Mind


Joanna Mullen & Kayley Baker

Sound is all around us. Maybe it’s the roar of the garbage disposal, the laughing of a small child, or the bustle of the city. Whatever it may be, our heads are constantly filled with a buzz we call noise. Not long after humans inhabited this earth,  people began to turn sounds into music. We learned that if we pick up a stick and hit it against a wall at a certain tempo, a beat will be formed. But why did we do this? Simply because it makes us feel good.

For as long as humans have lived, music has existed. We all know that music enhances our emotions but we struggle to understand why. Do you ever wonder why happy music makes you feel happy or why sad music makes you feel sad? It is because composers intentionally want you to feel that way. Musicians make their music sound unpredictable. The most exciting part of music is that you don’t know what it will sound like next. Your brain will process the noise as a sequence in which you think it will progress in a certain way, but when the musician adds something unexpected, we get the chills. Our brain triggers a “safe and sound” type response in which our brain feels content with the sequence. Music releases dopamine in both the dorsal and ventral striatum.

Since music has such an emotional effect on humans, we can use music as therapy. Because music is so accessible, humans are able to fight off stress and anxiety by playing soft or chill music. Loud and fast music can be used to give us energy and confidence. Patients suffering from cancer have seen positive effects from music. In fact, 19 studies proved that music therapy improved the patient’s anxiety levels in the hospital. (Cornell University) People also use music to help bring back lost memories because a familiar tune can trigger flashbacks in your brain. Elderly people with Alzheimer’s have been seen to recall songs from their youth allowing them to make an emotional connection. (CNN) Additionally music is helpful to those who suffer from mental and physical disabilities. For example, music is often used to calm children with severe autism. Student Joanna Mullen recalls one instance where she observed an autistic child screaming the melody of “Twinkle Twinkle” at a swim lesson. Joanna explained that although the child was unable to communicate, she could still convey messages through music. While being very upset about swimming, the song was able to calm her down. For children who are nonverbal, music often speaks for them. Children with Autism need focus to improve their current abilities in a positive way. The American Music Therapy Association states that the objective of the therapy is to enhance social, communicative, motor/sensory, emotional, and academic/cognitive functioning. These goals are specially set for individuals and can range from simple actions to complex communication.

For people struggling with mental or physical illness, music therapy is used to improve their health and commonly shorten their hospital stay. According to the American Music Therapy Association, physiological changes include improved respiration, lower blood pressure, improved cardiac output, reduced heart rate, and relaxed muscle tensions. Along with these major improvements, music therapy reduces stress and anxiety for hospital patients.

In search of more input on the connection between music and emotion, we interviewed Genesis Lara. Gena is senior at Ipswich High School and is involved in many musical groups including Concert Choir, Bel Canto, and even a band called “Starving Musicians Fund”. She explained that creating a measure that sounds cool “causes a weird, warm feeling in my body.” Gena said that the different genres of music make her feel different ways. For example, RnB music makes her feel creative while funk music makes her feel groovy. Gena’s favorite song to perform is called “See You Dance”. She described that throughout her performance she likes to play around with her voice to make it more interesting. Lastly, Gena explained how music and dancing has helped her through bad times. Music has ultimately shaped her into the person she is today.

We also spoke with Jennifer Baker, who is a firm believer in the use of music in education. Jennifer has spent most of her working life with young autistic children. Jen said, “I use music as a tool to teach and connect with children.” She described music as “a great way for children to learn while also engaging in something fun.” Jennifer has also used music to help calm children down during nap time. Finally, she explained that “targeting a child’s weaknesses and helping them learn with music can be extremely beneficial for their development in the future.”

Music can affect our lives in many more ways than we think. Even for the deaf, they can still feel the beat internally. Music penetrates our soul not only mentally through our ears but physically through our bodies. The power music has on our thoughts and opinions are huge. Different sounds and songs can be associated with feelings of sadness or excitement. The ability for music, lyrics included or not, to move us emotionally is a large factor in communities that can bring people together, to not only make music, but to listen, dance, and enjoy. Music is an incredible way to build bonds with peers and community members. Music is the ultimate cure for the human mind.