music and mood

MoodSurfing and Music – Nancy

Moodsurfing and Music.

We’ve all felt the effect that music can have on moods, from a jumpy, cheerful marching band,
to a sad-story country and western ballad to an uplifting inspirational song remembered from
childhood, music can affect us powerfully, sometimes changing a whole day with just one
excerpt on the radio during the morning commute. Syd Baumel in his book Dealing with
Depression Naturally notes that there is surprisingly little research on how music affects mood,
perhaps because the whole field is so complicated, with so many different kinds of music (and so many different kinds of moods).

Nonetheless, our experience over the years has shown that music can be effectively used for
moodsurfing. One caveat is that when trying to change or modify moods, it is more helpful to
start pretty close to where you are already at. That is, using extremely upbeat music for someone who is extremely depressed is not a good way to help them feel “a little bit” better. On the contrary, music that resonates with what you’re feeling may be more likely to help transcend a down mood. As one melancholic music lover puts it: “When I hear sad music composed by a
man who suffered, as did Chopin, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, I feel that I am ‘seconded,’ and
in feeling the beauty of that music I forget I am not well…” (Quoted in Baumel, 1995; pg 254).

An interesting illustration of this principle in working with children is found in the CD (MP3
collection) by Amy Saltzman, MD entitled Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Young Children.
The piece called “Wilds” catches the hyperactive energy of a child and gradually slows it down,
a technique that can also work for adults.

Here are some more music suggestions from Baumel’s book:

  • For great music to “second” your sadness, try Faure (Pelleas et Melisande), Ravel
    (Pavane for a Dead Princess), Rachmaninoff (Vocalise or his Symphony No. 2: Adagio),
    Dvorak (New World Symphony: Largo, Chopin, Barber (Adagio for Strings), or your
    favorite sad ballads or blues songs.
  • Bring your emotional turmoil in for a more rugged workout to the great romantic
    composers: Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky (Sixth Symphony), Mahler.
  • If you’re more adventurous, more modern, dissonant music can second your feelings of
    confusion, angst, alienation, or despair.
  • Music that brims with faith, hope, love, courage, or strength can be inspiring and
    empowering. Beethoven’s exuberant Ode to Joy (Ninth Symphony) is a classic example.
  • Other standouts include the music of Bach, Handel (Messiah), Wagner, Dvorak (New
    World Symphony), Vaughan Williams (Lark Ascending), as well as much folk, “world
    beat,” and pop/rock music.
  • Music can, of course, be great for relaxation or reveries. Try Baroque slow movements
    (Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Bach’s Air on the G String, Faure (Pavane), Debussy (Prelude a
    l’apres midi d’un Faune, Clair de Lune), Satie (Gymnopedies, Delius, “cool” jazz, and
    New Age music.