REPOST: The science of songs: how does music affect your body chemistry?

Music won’t be a multi-billion dollar business if it does not affect people to an overwhelming degree. In this article on The Guardian, composer and science lecturer John Powell explains how exactly music influences one’s behaviors in a scientific sense. Read on:


Research has revealed that music holds the keys to your body’s pharmacy. Photograph: Simon Frazer/SPL/Getty Images

Like many music lovers I’ve always had a fascination with the emotional power. How can a combination of sounds make all the hairs on your arms stand on end, or make you cry? I’ve always enjoyed reading newspaper and magazine articles about the psychological effects of music, but apart from the general conclusion that “music is magical”, they rarely provide any scientific answers.

But there are answers as to why music has such power over us. Since the middle of the 20th century, music psychologists have been carrying out a wide range of fascinating research into how our brains and bodies respond to music – but most of this has been relayed to us in formal scientific language, so I thought it would be a good idea to gather together the most interesting facts and theories from this large body of work and present them in plain language for the general reader.

I spent four years gathering information for my book, Why We Love Music, reading textbooks and papers packed full with phrases like “spectral structure and harmonic syntax” and “amplitudes of transglottal airflow”. Translated into conversational English, the science – I think – is of interest to everyone who loves music (and even those few of us who don’t). For example, experiments have demonstrated that music is extremely effective at curing insomnia; that shoppers spend more money in stores playing classical music; and that communal singing helps humans to bond with each other by releasing oxytocin into our system – the same chemical we experience during sex or breast-feeding.

My main problem in preparing the book was deciding which subjects to leave out. There are lots of interesting snippets I wish I could have included but they simply didn’t fit into any of the chapters, like how rock singers only appear to be singing louder when they reach the climax of their songs. What they are actually doing is putting more emotional stress into their voices, which we pay more attention to and so they sound louder than they are.

Continue reading HERE.