Music’s Effect On Body Chemistry

Washington (Gallant Gold Media Hill Report | Perspective | April 27, 2019)
NoreenByLine by Noreen Wise

The science of music is spellbinding. Whether we realize it or not, so much in our lives is influenced by music. The impact is usually subliminal. However, once we’re tuned in, it becomes fairly easy to identify our body chemistry responses. And once we know how our neurotransmitters will react to certain songs or music, we can be strategic. We can play specific songs at precise moments to elicit the neurotransmitter responses we need.

For example, every year on September 11, I play “Can’t Cry Hard Enough” by the Williams Brothers (1992) all day long. Over and over and over again, to make sure I never forget. And just like the song promises, I literally can’t cry hard enough. I can’t fathom that there are very many who wouldn’t cry, or feel emotionally distraught, by this heart wrenching work. Male or female. Young or old. Every ethnicity. The words and video images of Bethesda Terrace are also impactful. But it seems that it’s the music – the instruments, the melody, and the harmony – that triggers our body’s chemical reaction. Eyes dripping with tears seems as guaranteed as when peeling an onion.

The songs we choose when we exercise can make a dramatic difference. I have a running soundtrack of top rock favorites that I’ve used for years. The songs are upbeat and fast-paced. They seem ideal. While listening to these, I can run two miles every day. Two miles isn’t very far, I realize this. But running is better exercise than walking, so it seems that my exercise routine is sufficient even though I dream of running a 5K.

I recently had the good fortune of attending a Billy Joel concert in Madison Garden. It was sensational. I left feeling very inspired. A few days later, I went running and decided to listen to “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.” Without even realizing it, I ran an extra mile. All I did was keep replaying “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” I never grew tired. Easy. Within three days of maintaining this new song choice, I reached four miles. How is this possible? Especially considering that running four miles to “Scenes from a Italian Restaurant” is easier for me and more enjoyable than running two miles to my original soundtrack. So it’s clear there has to be some sort of science going on for this improbability to occur.

There are many other examples that point to a science phenomenon taking place when we’re listening to music. Retailers have fine-tuned their soundtracks to exploit this. Wegman’s focus is on 80’s top hits, honing in on who’s carrying the wallet. I could shop in Kohl’s for hours because of their exceptional music choices. Interestingly, Barnes & Noble doesn’t have influential listening music that motivates customers to buy, but rather calming, restive instrumentals, making it easy to hang out and read. The objective is clearly to sell B&N coffee. It works.

These tangible anecdotes seem to prove that music does indeed trigger neurotransmitter responses. Test it out and see for yourself. I imagine the chemical reaction can be both positive and negative. I much prefer positive neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline – but apparently some prefer dark and twisted songs that can possibly trigger aggression through body chemicals such as acetylcholine.

The song that literally saved my life when I was under extreme stress and traumatic fear for twelve straight months, believing every single night that I wouldn’t be alive when the sun rose, was “Fantasy” by Earth, Wind & Fire. I played this song every minute of every waking hour (slight hyperbole, but not too far off the mark actually). The song kept me incredibly calm, focused and aware. Over and over and over again, maintaining a trance-like response to a sustained daily threat. It seems as if “fantasy” released the much needed GABA neurotransmitter.

After experiencing these connections, it was interesting to read tonight after Google searching, an amazing article in the The Guardian that confirms the link between music and body chemistry, The science of songs: how does music affect your body chemistry?

“Research has revealed that music holds the keys to your body’s pharmacy, and can promote or suppress the release of these chemicals.” ~John Powell, physicist and author

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