Sad Songs (Say So Much) - Part 3


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The final of my three blog music posts will question why we listen to sad music and how music is said to heal.  In an article from the NY Times by Al Kawakami the reasoning behind our love for sad music is explored. Kawakami brings up a strong point: why do we listen to music that just seems to induce our sadness? Why does it please us? These are questions experts have pondered for years, and the respect for artistic expression may be the answer.


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Kawakami and his colleagues studied a new idea of "music emotion" this "encompasses both the felt emotion that the music induces in the listener and the perceived emotion that the listener judges the music to express." When separating the emotion of the song and the emotion felt by the listener it is easier to dissect their true identities. In Kawakami's experiment he had a random pool of 44 participants, men and women. He then had them listen to thirty-seconds of three separate musical selections, experimenting with minor and major keys. A participant would be asked several basic questions on their current state of being after listening to the selections.  The researchers concluded that despite certain music being deemed "tragic" the listeners didn't typically feel that way about the piece; it was more of how they perceived it.  After having the subjects listen to "happy" pieces a similar conclusion was reached. The participants didn't exactly feel "happier," but they could easily perceive happy emotions.  This also came across in rating of 62 emotion related words - participants ranked perceived emotions higher than felt emotions.

Kawakami believes that when we listen to sad or happy music we can easily separate ourselves from the true feelings, because unless we are in the situation we know we subconsciously know we are not in any danger. Interestingly, like the past experiments I have discussed that innate ability to differentiate between feelings in music and feelings in "reality" come up again.

Tied into the sadness question posed above, a sensation that is currently gaining momentum is music therapy. According to prevention.com Suzanne Hanser, EdD, chairperson of the music therapy department at Berklee College of Music and a music therapist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, explains ways to utilize music to help heal. The article claims that music therapy manages pain, decreases nausea during chemotherapy, relieves anxiety, and lowers blood pressure among other health benefits.  "There is no set prescription," Hanser says. She claims anything you could need is found in your own home. An important aspect of successful music therapy is choosing music with appropriate memories and feelings. She "prescribes" upbeat and rhythmic selections in order to cheer up and classical and new age music if you're trying to sleep. She even has certain methods and routines that optimize results. For example, before bed she suggests skipping after dinner coffee to wind down, and relax by listening to your music in bed whilst taking deep, steady breaths.  If interested in music therapy, definitely check out the article it has some useful information. Not only is music therapy a personal experiment, but it is being widely used among hospitals. Many of you might have recognized the practice which benefits from THON efforts.


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As per usual, I suppose all of these benefits could be due to chance. It might also be worth noting that when someone is hurt or stressed they often listen to music, but you don't listen to music in order to get hurt or stressed.  Music therapy is a very unique practice and worth experimenting, so maybe one day before dreaded finals week lie down on your twin sized bed, concentrate on proper breathing, and switch on a slow Dave Matthews Band jam to get yourself comfortable. 

5 Comments

I absolutely love this post, because sad songs are my absolute favorite. I actually had a conversation about this with my roommate two days ago, because we were listening to the most depressing songs and asked ourselves "why are we such happy people, yet our favorite music is sad?" I realized it definitely serves as a therapy for me. Honestly, happier and "party" music usually frustrates me if I am not in the mood, but I can always go for the tear-jerkers. When I am stressed, anxious, or sad, sad music is the only thing that can relieve me and calm me down. Sure, I may cry, but everyone needs a good cry sometimes and it helps me clear my head. It is like how people that break up with their boyfriend listen to love songs... I have witnessed many girls listen to love songs while upset about an ending relationship, but I realized that you're right, it helps us separate from our "true feelings". As this link says "misery loves company" http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/why-sad-music-makes-you-happy

This is something that I never really thought about, but actually makes total sense. One thing that struck me was at the end when you said, "when someone is hurt or stressed they often listen to music, but you don't listen to music in order to get hurt or stressed." This basically says that humans generally don't do anything to purposely cause themselves pain, correct? Maybe this is why "felt" emotions are less significant than "perceived" emotions. You mentioned that our bodies tell us we are not in any real "danger" when listening to sad songs. Perhaps this is due to the fact that we know we would not purposely do anything to hurt ourselves, and hence our bodies know that the song is not a threat.

Tackling the logic behind certain types of music can be difficult, but I think you did an awesome job with this blog post! What really stuck out to me was when you recognized the idea that listeners are able to feel a completely different way about a song, even though they are aware of how it is supposed to be perceived. I believe that a big factor that influences how people feel about a song is their prior experiences with it. For example, if someone had their first kiss while a sad song was playing in the background, chances are they wouldn't feel sad when listening to it, they'd feel a sense of happiness or nostalgia. In addition, if someone got hit with a baseball at a sporting event while a happy song was playing, they probably would not have the happiest reaction if they heard the song again. Experiences can really alter your feelings of music, so here's a list of 27 places you are guaranteed to have amazing experiences at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariellecalderon/surreal-places-to-visit-before-you-die. Maybe you can

I'm glad you enjoyed the post!I'm also intrigued to see that you and your roommate were questioning this! It's definitely a question that many people have,but just never really know the answer. I hope my post could have been some help to at least start guiding you toward your own independent research. Here's a quick forum post on the TED talks website about "why music touches us" Similar to what I've posted he talks about why we enjoy listening to music that makes us feel something. http://www.ted.com/conversations/3796/why_does_music_touch_us_emot.html


A good majority of the music I listen to is considered to be sad or "depressing" by my friends, but I love it so this article was great! It finally gave me some logic to answer the question "Why do you like this stuff? It’s so sad." I completely agree that it works as a form of therapy. For me, it just calms me down. The top hits that you hear on the radio are so up beat that sometimes they can really get me stressed out, or they get me in the mood to go out in the middle of the day which doesn't really help. Sad songs are kind of my safety net. I found some other really interesting reasons why people listen to sad songs in an article I read (link below). The article talks about how people tend to listen to sad songs to evoke a memory of person they miss or just because of the overall message communicated through the song. I think there are a lot of reasons why people still listen to sad songs. I understand that the songs are a little sad, but at the end of the day they are still great songs so why not listen to them!
http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2013/07/why-do-people-like-listening-to-sad.html

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