How Music Affects The Soul
Music is powerful! Music provides relaxation. Music arouses emotions. Music allows expression. Music even changes how one perceives the world. This idea of how music affects the soul, dates back to Ancient Greece and to famous philosophers such as Plato and his student, Aristotle. Aristotle’s philosophy of music, is often debated and ignored, but his ideas are still valued by many today. Aristotle’s words are convincing:
Music imitates the passions or states of the soul, such as gentleness, anger, courage, temperance, and their opposites. Music that imitates a certain passion arouses that same passion in the listener. Habitual listening to music that rouses ignoble passions distorts a person’s character. In short, the wrong kind of music makes the wrong kind of person, and the right kind tends to make the right kind of person (“Aristotle” 2019).
Music not only allows an individual to escape and explore his emotions, but it penetrates deeper and shapes one’s character. While most people will view Aristotle’s words as only an opinion, he makes some valid points that can be supported. In order to back Aristotle’s claim, it is important to answer two questions: How does music imitate the passions or states of the soul and arouse the same passion in the listener that it imitates? Does habitual listening to music affect a person’s character? The first question to examine, is how does music represent the passions or states of the soul and arouse that same passion in the listener? Music moves people in a way other forms of art do not. Music stirs up emotions in people, but it is more than just the words one hears. The emotions an individual feels when listening to music begin with the tempo, dynamics, and pitch. Tempo, dynamics, and pitch help create mood and affect one’s emotional response.
For example, happiness or excitement is felt in music genres with a fast tempo, loud dynamics, and a high pitch such as pop or rock, like in the song “Sugar, We’re Going Down,” by Fall Out Boy. Negative emotions such as sadness or despair are experienced when music produces a slow tempo, soft dynamics, and low pitch as heard in the song “Jealous,” by Labyrinth. Timbre contributes to how an individual responds to music. Timbre makes a soprano sound different from a baritone, or a flute sound different from a French horn. Each voice type and instrument has a different range that evokes many emotions in the listener. A soprano or a flute often gives rise to a feeling of joy or good humor, whereas a baritone or French horn may elicit a feeling of sadness or mourning. When lyrics are added to a song, emotions sore to even greater heights. It is the words that truly enable the listener to understand the song. It is through this connection when the listener can feel those same passions that the music represents, such as gentleness or anger. To continue answering this question, it is important to look at both the scientific and psychological evidence. This evidence supports Aristotle’s claim that music that imitates a certain passion also arouses that same passion in the listener. The scientific evidence seems rather simple. In an interview on “Talk of the Nation,” titled, “The Power of Music to Affect The Brain,” author Elena Mannes shares that listeners are told that scientists have found that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function (Mannes 2011). In the article, “Are your Emotions Linked with the Music you Listen to?” writer Sarah Anton shares research that points out that music creates movements in the brain that stir up certain emotions.
According to Anton, research shows that “the way people respond to music involves regions of the brain that are known from previous research to be implicated in emotional responses, in turn directly linking the effects of music on our brain and emotional state” (Anton 2018). From a psychological standpoint, there are several key features that explain this emotional response to music. Sharhram Heshmat Ph.D. shares these features in “Why Are We Moved by Music?” One of these features is reminiscing. Music simply reminds people of important life events, such as a breakup or the loss of a loved one and triggers an emotional experience. Another feature mentioned is synchronizing movements to music. The rhythm of music makes listeners want to move. Loud, sudden, and fast-paced music creates arousal and relaxing music can reduce feelings of anxiety. Heshmat also shared that music can copy emotions. The temporal patterns of music mirror our emotional lives, such as the introduction, buildup, climax, and closure. For example, a slow tempo naturally conveys sadness, because it has a structural resemblance with the slowness that we might expect in a sad individual (Heshmat 2018). Obviously, the evidence found in both scientific and psychological research supports the idea that music can definitely imitate different emotions and generate those same emotions in people. Everyone is moved by music. Personal experiences show that music is a strong force and that it can enter one’s soul and move the hearts of men.
It is so forceful that music can change the thoughts and mindset of men. That thought leads to the next thought in Aristotle’s claim: Does habitual listening to music affect a person’s character? Society definitely places stereotypes on people based on the type of music they listen to. For example, people who listen to classical music, jazz, or blues are usually easy going and feel good about themselves. Rap and heavy metal music lovers, on the other hand, are seen as more tense and aggressive and tend to have a lower self-esteem. One example would be . . . To support Aristotle’s thought that bad music makes a bad person and good music makes a good person, it is again imperative to turn to research. In a recent CNN newsletter, journalist Nina Avramova reported research findings in an article titled, “How music can change the way you feel and act.” According to Avramova, a paper published in 2003 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reported that music can stir up thoughts and feelings of aggression or hostile behavior. In an experiment involving nearly 150 male and female college students, listening to a violent song led to feelings of aggression that were more profound than those who listened to a nonviolent song. In another study conducted in 2011, 43 participants claimed that happy background music elicited happy emotions and sad background music elicited sad emotions (Avramova 2019).
In a revised article by the American Academy of Pediatrics, titled “Impact of Music, Music Lyrics, and Music Videos on Children and Youth,” a study conducted with a small group of at-risk youth showed that these youth listened to up to 6.8 hours of music per day. This article also revealed, in an analysis of the top 10 CDs performed by the National Institute on Media in 1999, that each CD contained at least one song with content related to sex. The article goes on to say that the lyrics of some music genres, found in rap, heavy metal, and rock include topics ranging from substance abuse, sex, and suicide, to messages related to violence, racism, and drug use (Council on Communications 2009). Country music even embraces negative connotations, such as drunkenness and suicide. For instance, the song “Whiskey Lullaby,” sung by artists Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss, is about a man and woman who drink themselves to death because the man comes back from war and finds his wife in bed with another man. The effect that these music genres have on the youth and future generations of society is alarming. If bad music doesn’t make a bad person, it definitely plays a role in shaping one’s character if certain genres of music are listened to on a continual basis. On the opposite end, good music makes a good person. Worship music, for example . . . Whether people’s opinions about music are formed from research or bias, habitual listening to music can either twist or shape one’s character, because it does in imitate emotion. By answering the questions of how music imitates and arouses the passion in the listener and if habitual listening affects a person’s character, one can see through personal reflection and research, that Aristotle’s claim is valid. Music provides people with a means to find themselves and express themselves in a life and world that is often empty, but one must be careful not to get lost in the negative connotations that music can instill in one’s heart and character. Whether a listener connects to classical, rap, heavy metal, or country, music allows anyone to find his true voice in his soul, whether good or bad.
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