Music and Emotions

October 17, 2016

The definition of music is “the art of combining sounds of the human voice or instruments, or each other at once, which produces delight, excites sensitivity, whether happy, and sad.” Therefore, singing, the sounds of a guitar or of a violin music of an orchestra or a rock band…it’s all music.

Since ancient times, music has been considered an art. It is a code, a universal language, which is present in all cultures in the history of mankind. Interestingly, the hieroglyphic signs representing the word “music” were identical to those representing the states of “joy” and “wellbeing.” And in China, the two characters that represent music mean “enjoy the sound.” Music has endured over time because it makes us feel good.

Music therapy

Possibly, the origins of the therapeutic use of sounds and music date back to the beginning of mankind. Plato already cited that “music is for the soul what exercise is for the body.” He recognized that music has certain qualities or properties that influence our emotional and/or spiritual dimensions.

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) defines music therapy as “a profession in the field of health, which uses music and musical activities to address physical, psychological and social needs of people of all ages. Music Therapy improves the quality of life of healthy people and meets the needs of children and adults with disabilities and diseases. Its interventions can be designed to enhance wellness, manage stress, reduce pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and facilitate physical rehabilitation”.

Thus, if we consider disease as a disruption, imbalance or a lack of communication, we can believe that music can help build the bridges necessary for the communication that is blocked in order to flow. Contributing to the restoration or improvement of health.

Today, music therapy is applied to a wide range of conditions and people of all ages. There are common applications in education (autism, hyperactivity, Down syndrome…), mental health (depression, anxiety, stress…), medicine (oncology, pain, people in the ICU…) and geriatrics (dementia…).

Thanks to the ability of music to act at all levels, music therapy can achieve some objectives such as:

  • Improve the level of emotions and behavior.
  • Develop communication and means of expression.
  • Release built up energy.
  • Develop affective-emotional awareness.
  • Provide people with an enriching musical experiences to help them to motivate themselves.
  • Reinforce self-esteem and personality.
  • Rehabilitate, socialize and educate.

Does music affect people on an emotional level?

Who hasn’t experienced some emotion while listening to music? Sound and music stir our emotions, and these alter our physiology and our hormones. They alter our heart rate and pulse. We can be aware of this, but often we are not.

Music was used in ancient times to encourage warriors and hunters. Even in film it is used as a means to strengthen the effects of certain scenes, becoming an indispensable code for the emotional characterization of the script and situations (Cohen, 2011).

Our mood is often reflected by the type of music we listen to or sing. A sad song can put us in a melancholic state, while a cheerful song can excite us and give us a few minutes of happiness. Just as soft and harmonic music accompanies us in our moments of relaxation and study, rhythmic music stimulates us while we exercise.

Music has an effect on many of our important memories. Who hasn’t ever associated a certain situation with a song?

The brain areas activated with emotions and music are virtually the same. When the brain perceives sound waves, it produces certain psycho-physiological reactions. These cause emotions and physiological changes such as increased segregation of neurotransmitters and other hormones, which act on the central nervous system.

Music can modify our physiological rhythms, alter our emotional state and is able to change our mindset by bringing peace and harmony to our spirit. Music has a powerful influence on human beings at all levels.

The art of music is the one that is closest tears and memories.
-Oscar Wilde-

Do you think we could live without music?


Jauset Berrocal, Jordi A. (2008). Music and Neuroscience: Music Therapy. Its Foundations, Effects and Therapeutic Applications. Barcelona: Editorial UOC.

Image courtesy of Jake Olson Studios