Music and Mood

musicPeople naturally turn to music to change or improve their moods. There are surprisingly few studies on this. But those studies that do exist confirm what we already know, music can definitely affect our mood.

Enough of the science, if we know music affects mood, how can we use that knowledge to “moodsurf” better?

One thing that we have discovered over the years is that if you want to help someone change or improve their mood it is best to start pretty close to how they are feeling. If you try talking “super-cheerfully” to someone who is depressed you will see what we mean.

A neat illustration of how to use this effect to help people change their mood is contained on the CD (MP3 collection) by Amy Saltzman, MD entitled Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Young Children. (OK hang with me a sec, this is not just useful for kids). It is called “Wilds” and listen to how it catches the hyperactive energy of a child and gradually slows it down.

So, the typical prescription for the “blues,” bright, cheerful music (Mozart, Vivaldi, bluegrass, polka, Klezmer, Salsa, reggae), may seem fake or off putting. Try instead music that resonates with it the feeling and finds in the blues the beauty and poignancy of sadness. 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…” (5, p. 254)

For great music to “second” your sadness, try Faure (Pelleas et Mellisande), 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 Symphon ) is a classic example. Other standouts include the music of Bach, Handel (Messiah), Wagner, Dvorak (New World Symphony), Vaughan Williams (Lark Ascending), and 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.

Finally, let’s not overlook music as a stimulant. Try Mozart, Prokofiev, march music, Zydeco, Dixieland, Klezmer, bluegrass, Gypsy music, Salsa, Indian and Near Eastern music, rock, and pop.

Excerpted from chapter 30 of Dealing with Depression Naturally, copyright (c) 1995 by Syd Baumel, published by Keats Publishing Inc., New Canaan, Conn.