Music is a universal language. Beyond the powers of word and speech, the melody, rhythm and pitch of music is transcendental. It moves people of all shape, race, gender, color, age and size to feel. Musicians use music as the means through which they are able to express the emotions they themselves are feeling. In turn, the ones listening are influenced into feeling the emotions in a particular score, composition, or song. Listeners usually see their own emotions reflected in the type of music they prefer to listen to. This would lead to the notion of music being a very subjective concept. What resonates in one person while listening to a particular music may not be the same to that in another. Whichever way we are made to feel by music, what is common is the fact that we are actually moved to feel in the first place. There is very little doubt that music truly influences and impacts our emotions. The question that has plagued psychologists and academics until now is, “how?”.
How does music evoke emotions in a listener? How does it move people to feel what the conveyor wants them to feel far better, at times, than words and actions can? Various theories have come up to try and explain how music does such a subtle yet powerful thing.
Some say our appreciation for music is linked to our mind’s constant efforts to put together and organize structures into comprehensible patterns. The mind attempts to understand the pattern of music and tries to predict what is to come next in a particular song. The whole appreciation occurs in the anticipation. Music, like most emotional stimuli, is greatly associated with the notions of expectation, reward and motivation. A master musician knows how to manipulate these aspects in the audience so that he is able to determine when to meet or not to meet the listeners’ expectations. The thrill of the unexpected is what creates the “soul-deep” reaction to music. We feel the music resonate in us, giving us chills and moving us. Biologically, our brains reacted to the stimuli and sent neuro-messages throughout our whole body, eliciting those pleasurable responses.
Another theory by Mark Changzi states that the reason music elicits emotions in us is because we associate the sound in music to human movement the same way we determine emotions through body gestures and expressions. When we listen to music, our minds, consciously or not, are hard at work envisioning human actions to the song. Music moves us because we, in turn, imagine motion in it.
Our appreciation for music and the emotions that it elicits in us are not just entertaining, they are therapeutic as well. When we truly look into what kinds of music interest us, we are able look deeper into our deepest, sometimes even subconscious emotions. We get to be acquainted with feelings we consciously or unconsciously suppress. That’s why certain songs feel so intense; because they bring out from us the emotions we already have but have just not had the time to re-examine.