Interaction between Music and Feelings

The relationship between music and feelings is an interactive process that not everyone knows how to understand.   Music plays an important part in how we approach life and everyday matters; it is a binding fabric in our lives.  There are multiple types of music that can each elicit a response or decision based on how that music interacts with our feelings.   It can bring us to sheer joy or bring about intense sorrow.   We associate songs with certain activities that have taken place in our lives and place sentimental value on the lyrics and melody. 

Why do music and feelings play so closely together in the scheme of things?  Sociologists, marketers, and many others have studied why music has such an impact on human interaction.  There is still much that can be done to study the phenomenon as it is subject to much interpretation.  The key being that marketers are very interested in the association with music and decision making as this translates to dollars for retailers.   The problem is that the same piece of music can elicit different reactions from different people. 

For instance when most people hear Mendelssohn’s Wedding March it brings about feelings of jubilation.  For some; however, the feeling is one of heartache and sorrow.  How people react to any given selection of music is largely impacted by their own personal experiences.  Through studying how feelings are derived through different genres of music, a generalization can be made as to how most consumers will react. 

Knowing how people will react to a certain type of music is also important to the artist performing the selection as well.  The success or failure of their interpretation is dependent upon this information.  Have you ever heard a re-make of a song that you just did not like even though you much appreciated the original?   It happens quite often, and sometimes this is why the world has so many “One hit wonders”.  An individual performer or group is able to capture the emotion of their audience for that one song, but it is lost among the others.  

How does one analyze the interaction between music and feelings?  Because of the subjectivity of the listener, this can be an arduous task.  Basically, there are three ways in which the effects of music and emotion can be displayed and calculated.   The first is through individual reporting.  This is subject to interpretation of the individual recalling their feelings after hearing a musical selection.  This is a good source for information, but sometimes the listener themselves is not certain how to context all the feelings they experience. 

Physiological responses to music can be observed such as increases or decreases in heart rate.  Muscle tension and relaxation can also be physically observed.  Responses to change in the nervous system from musical stimulation can be recorded, observed, and cataloged for a more accurate measurement. 

Another way to observe how music effects emotion is by outward behavior.  Behavior can be expressed and measured through electromyography of the face.  This type of observation it not used very often however, nor the observation of people in the element such as at concerts.  More emphasis has been placed on observing to see how music affects decision making.   Advertising dollars have been allocated to research this subject and create jingles for product recognition based on research results.  Is it an exact science?  No, but the results are close enough that decisions are made that bring back the advertising dollars in ten-fold.  

What do you and I get out of it?   Well, music is a fabulous way to express emotion.  It can help us through times of triumph and tragedy.   The sounds we encounter cause us to shed tears of joy and sorrow.  Does it matter to us how music is an interactive process with our feelings?  I would say that most people do not think about how it affects them; they listen purely for the entertainment, and to take the mind off of things that are weighing down thoughts.